REVIEW: The Leeds Guide

Michael Harcourt
23 July - 14 August, 2003

In the not-too-distant future America will become a vast worldwide empire. Non-USA countries will become increasingly marginalised and regarded as eccentric. Everything will be privatised — health services, the police, the government. Everything. There will no longer be taxes. People will be identified by the name of the corporation that employs them. One such employee is Hack Nike. Hack lives and works in the Australian Territories of the USA. In the grand scheme of things, he is a small fish indeed, firmly rooted in Nike’s merchandising department, having consistently missed out on promotion. Hack’s luck is about to change, however. A chance meeting with a pair of high-powered executives results in an exclusive marketing contract for Nike’s latest trainers. But this will be a marketing campaign like no other before it and Hack’s commitment to the company is about to be tested to the limit.

Jennifer Government is the debut novel from young Australian writer Max Barry and a corker it is too. Rattling along at breakneck pace, Barry constructs an intricate plot around a host of well-written characters, building up to a suitably barnstorming climax. Satire provides the framework rather than the meat of the novel, which is essentially an exciting futuristic thriller — a Nineteen Eighty-Four played for laughs and thrills rather than a cerebral warning of things to come. But Barry’s justified concern that man risks losing his humanity under the weight of faceless corporations strikes a sufficiently sobering tone at the heart of the matter.

Jennifer Government is a breathtakingly assured first novel, funny, exciting, touching and thought-provoking. Expect the film rights to be snapped up in no time.