Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Joy by Jonathan Lee: A Lawyer's Life

Jonathan Lee: Strong sophomore
Joy is Jonathan Lee's second novel, following on from Who is Mr Satoshi?, which saw an agoraphobic searching for clues in a cache of lost letters. Alienation was the order of the day; here, in Joy, the characters each inhabit their own peculiar bubble, but are connected in complex - and often devastating - ways.

Lee evokes the predatory, semi-psychotic atmosphere of life at a corporate law firm with gleeful vividness. He shows this world from varying perspectives - the titular Joy, a solicitor about to be "made up" (how significant those two little words sound) to partner, and who has decided that she wants to kill herself; Peter, a man with a selection of chips on his shoulder and an active sex life; Barbara, the secretary, complete with hip-problems and dreams of America; Dennis, Joy's rambling, professorial, older husband; and Sam, the obsessive compulsive gym attendant who likes counting and covertly watching his colleague, Jack.

Structurally, the book follows Joy in the third person as she goes about her last day, remembering the things that led to her decision - a lost nephew features prominently, as do the suicide of her father, her husband's deviant sex life, and the overwhelming stress levels of her job (defending an unscrupulous chicken factory). This main narrative is interspersed with sections of monologue, told to the unseen Dr Odd as the characters deal with Joy's fall (or jump).

Lee's writing is clear, as if lit by the fluorescent, constant lights of a law firm, and the darkness of his subject is pricked by little dots of often surreal humour - a lizard, a solicitor who likes to unzip under his desk. Paradoxically, it suggests that law firms have very little to do with truth - all the characters cloak themselves and each other in some way. Lee is an escaped lawyer himself, and the main thrust of the book concerns the deadening, stultifying effects of repetitive action whose only reward (and rare at that) is material. (There's a particularly effective "Make Law Fun" day at the office.) If the catalogue of horrors that beset Joy seem a little stretched, then it seems to work as a metaphor for the way that that sort of life can really cut you off from your family - talking to your children on speakerphone, seeing your partner once a week - and, crucially, from yourself.

This is a well-wrought, compelling novel that addresses the way we deal with work in an engaging and intelligent fashion. Lee is a fine temperature-taker of our psyches, and this book confirms his talents.

No comments:

Post a Comment