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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


All Quiet on the Orient Express

Magnus Mills

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To purchase All Quiet On The Orient Express

Title: All Quiet On The Orient Express
Author: Magnus Mills
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999
Length: 211 pages
Availability: All Quiet On The Orient Express - US
All Quiet On The Orient Express - UK
All Quiet On The Orient Express - Canada
Rien de nouveau sur l'Orient Express - France
Indien kann warten - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

A- : not entirely credible, but enjoyable and creepy

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Berliner Zeitung . 25/5/2002 Uta Beiküfner
FAZ . 14/12/2002 Ingeborg Harms
Frankfurter Rundschau . 9/1/2003 Gerd Busse
The Independent A 18/9/1999 Roger Clarke
Independent on Sunday A+ 19/9/1999 William Sutcliffe
New Statesman . 1/11/1999 Martyn Bedford
The NY Times Book Rev. . 12/9/1999 James Polk
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Spring/2000 Brian Evenson
San Francisco Chronicle A+ 5/9/1999 Carey Harrison
Time . 18/10/1999 Nadja Labi
TLS . 1/10/1999 Sam Gilpin
World & I . 1/2000 Robert F. Geary

  Review Consensus:

  All enjoyed it, and some are very enthusiastic

  From the Reviews:
  • "Es ist wahrscheinlich nicht zu viel versprochen, dass man zumindest auf den letzten Seiten des Romans auch hier zu Lande über seine Art des Humors wird lachen können." - Uta Beiküfner, Berliner Zeitung

  • "Mit bravourös gezügelter Rhetorik liefert Magnus Mills eine Farce auf die Easy-Rider-Romantik und alles, was an Freiheitsphantasien mit ihr einhergehen mag." - Ingeborg Harms, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Auch der zweite Mills-Roman, Indien kann warten, ist schwarzer Humor pur. (...) Mills versteht es, diesen ganzen Wahnsinn höchst überzeugend in Szene zu setzen. Mehr noch, es gelingt ihm, den Leser völlig in den Bann seiner Erzählung zu schlagen." - Gerd Busse, Frankfurter Rundschau

  • "And it says something about Mills's prowess as a writer that he can turn such an unpromising subject as a young man lingering in such a place after a holiday, doing a few odd jobs and playing in the darts team in the pub, into something matt-black and utterly creepy. (...) All Quiet on the Orient Express is minimalist, spare and full of suggestion. The novel's tone is still bouncing round my head days after first experiencing its world: a demonic dystopia in the heart of Bragg country." - Roger Clarke, The Independent

  • "The entire book, in fact, is story. There is very little reflection. Mills somehow constructs a complex sequence of events that only his narrative voice can form into a plot. One way in which he achieves this is through the subtle weirdness of his narrator's world view.(...) You cannot ask more of a book than for it to make the familiar seem fresh, strange and scary. In a modest, sneaky way, Mills pulls this off better than any other writer at work today." - William Sutcliffe, Independent on Sunday

  • "A simple summary of the story does nothing to convey the atmosphere of Mills' fiction, its mood of suffocation and gathering menace. (...) All Quiet on the Orient Express does not quite have the edge of black humour of his previous book, but the sense of comic surrealism, in ostensibly realist prose, is as strong as ever." - Martyn Bedford, New Statesman

  • "Maybe only the English write books like this. The narrative unwinds slowly. The plot reveals itself in the most deliberate increments. Much is suggested, little explained. Hints of incipient drama along the way lead nowhere in particular. Characters who will eventually become pivotal drift in and out, making scant initial impact. There are strong inklings of an overriding daffiness. Not until the end are readers aware of just what has happened, and even then doubts linger." - James Polk, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Mills is expert at capturing the rhythms of the everyday, noncommunicative speech we engage in. Though stronger in many regards than The Restraint of Beasts, All Quiet on the Orient Express nevertheless suffers a little from its similarity to that first novel." - Brian Evenson, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "Mills' wonderful ear for dialogue is matched by his infallible eye for eccentric detail (.....) Not since Kafka has an author lured his audience so innocently, so beguilingly, into hell. Look, no tricks, declares Mills' plain descriptive prose. And by the time the reader has discovered that the story has no conscience either, it's too late." - Carey Harrison, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "In this creepy, deadpan novel by a nominee for Britain's Booker Prize, nothing much happens--except that one man slowly, painlessly, surrenders his life." - Nadja Labi, Time

  • "The projected journey to the East, which never takes place, because of the narrator's susceptibility to manipulation, stands for all the goals and aspirations which are delayed and lost in the compromises of the workaday world. (...) Mills's novel never approaches the contortions and excesses of Kafka's, nor, unfortunately, is it as funny as The Restraint of Beasts. It is wryly amusing and offbeat, reminiscent of a fable or a children's story in its simplicity." - Sam Gilpin, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Mills' real subject all along has been work, and All Quiet on the Orient Express may be seen as a curtailment of political and philosophical embellishments rather than a less rich book. Work -- what's right and wrong with it -- is what this novel is about." - Robert F. Geary, World & I

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       All Quiet on the Orient Express begins with its nameless narrator camping in the Lake District as the summer season comes to an end. He's ambitious -- it seems --, ready to set out:

Abroad East. You know, Turkey, Persia, and then overland to India.
       He wakes up one morning and finds he's the only camper left behind at the campground. It's fine with him, as he's planning to leave shortly too. But, as he soon finds out, the best laid plans .....
       The camping site proprietor is Tommy Parker, and he ropes the narrator into painting a gate for him. It all seems harmless enough, yet somehow Parker then always has some more odd jobs the narrator can do (many involving green paint). Soon enough the narrator does try to venture onwards, but wouldn't you know it the foul weather strands him before he has a chance to get too far away -- and Parker is conveniently there to find him and bring him back into the fold.
       The narrator winds up settling down there for the winter too, moving fron the temporary campground to a caravan of Parker's to a bothy. He agrees to paint some boats for Parker by Christmas, too. The money arrangements aren't too clear, but there's always something to do and the narrator doesn't really worry about thinking too far ahead.
       The locale is an odd, isolated place, and not all that welcoming. The nearby town only has two pubs, and in the off-season the locals take over again, meaning they are less obliging of the outsider's needs and wants. Still, the narrator finds a place there: Parker always has something for him to do, his daughter Gail has homework she needs help with, and eventually he's even accepted on one pub's dart team.
       In fact, the narrator is kept very busy. He's not the only harried soul: there's also Deakin, for example, who delivers the milk. And Tommy always has some projects going, and there's old Mr.Pickthall, retired now but not at all able to settle into an idle life.
       There are other strange things: Bryan Webb, who goes around wearing a crown; warnings about Parker's temper; and the occasional mention of the narrator's predecessor, Marco. And then there's the fact that money so rarely changes hands hereabouts -- credit and "mutually beneficial agreements" are the order of the day.
       The narrator's odd mix of lethargy and willingness to go along with almost anything (and a certain eagerness to please) lead him ever deeper into a serf-life. Parker even hires him out. The fact that the narrator never manages to get anything completely right either is also his undoing.
       It is another character that gets truly undone at the hands of the narrator, in the novel's one truly shocking scene -- though it's treated almost as if it weren't of much importance by the characters. The event, however, also ties the narrator even more firmly into the fold. Only slowly does it dawn on him how deeply in he is mired, the book then closing with a nicely sinister scene.

       Mills' novel is a fairly -- yet deceptively -- simple one. Not that much happens, and the descriptions and conversations seem almost banal, but it is still an atmospheric novel, filled with foreboding. It is amazing how much horror there is in the mundane.
       Mills' style, and his odd inventions -- the green paint ! the crown ! -- and the characters his narrator never quite gets a grip on all work together to make this a surprisingly dark and compelling tale. It reads very nicely, and the many quirky details -- plausible enough not to seem artificial -- make for much amusement. Only the early escape attempt and the reactions to the one most dramatic event are not believable, detracting a bit from the book as a whole.
       Still: an enjoyable read, a very well-told story.

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All Quiet On The Orient Express: Reviews: Magnus Mills: Other books by Magnus Mills under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of contemporary British fiction under review

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About the Author:

       British author Magnus Mills was born in 1954. He has written several novels.

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© 2003-2012 the complete review

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