Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
by Mike French
ISBN: 978-1-908168-07-8, paperback, 192pp,Aug 2012
It’s 2034 and the pendulum has swung so far in the direction of “family-values” that overtime is banned, anyone unmarried at twenty five is assigned a spouse, and the Family Protection Agency is on the lookout for those who are working in the holidays or past the sanctioned time, sometimes with violent consequences. On the flipside of this is Leviticus, leader of the Overtime Underground Network, encouraging and enabling those who love their jobs and want to work just a bit longer than 9-5. Mike French’s Blue Friday is a science fiction that draws on George Orwell’s 1984 to show a society gone mad. Though written in a light-hearted farcical way, the novel takes a hard look at state sanctioned control and the way in which it perverts even the most humanistic of subjects (such as work-life balance and “family values”).
Blue Friday vacillates between black humour, which can be very funny indeed, and the cognitive dissonance of an unlikely dystopia which is all too familiar. The story walks a fine line between deep psychology and light-hearted farce, especially the episodes with the Mr Men styled Mr Brittle and Mr Stone, as well as the prevalence of old-fashioned state-sanctioned television shows like “Bewitched” and “The Generation Game”.
As with French’s first novel The Ascent of Issac Stewart, Old Testament references abound in Blue Friday. The main protagonist is Leviticus, aka Trent, who, after killing the previous Leviticus, goes into hiding with his girlfriend Keturah, attempting to continue his “workaholism is freedom” crusade against the state. Driving Leviticus’ actions is Covenant, a bodiless ubiquitous flirty computer. As the tension between Keturah and Covenant grows, we begin to wonder just who Covenant is, and where the story will end. The overall effect of this strange dance between humans and computers, especially as it manifests itself in Trent’s psyche, is chilling.
Keeping the Biblical themes going, an Adam and Eve subtext is revealed in the alternative reality of Avodah, which means “work” in Hebrew. French’s previous book The Ascent of Issac Steward makes a reappearance in the form of the Dandelion Tree. As with The Ascent of Issac Steward, it’s sometimes difficult for the reader to work out what is the dominant reality and what is fantasy in Blue Friday, however, to a certain extent the distinctions don’t matter. After all, this isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. Instead this clever, beautifully written story takes the notion of “family friendly working hours” and work-life balance and follows the idea to a terrifying conclusion. Blue Friday is an enjoyable read that will leave the reader guessing.
About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and a wide number of collaborations and anthologies. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.
Article first published as Book Review: Blue Friday by Mike French on Blogcritics.