Book: Then we came to the end by Joshua Ferris

Reviewed by Andy Redfern on .

Summary: Nice try but this book is trying a little too hard

I don’t think I have ever read a book but where the majority of the text is written in the first person plural – “we thought this, we did that” etc. To begin with it is a charming device that would have perhaps worked well for short story or for a novella, but for a 400-page novel it proved hard work. Then we came to the end has many neat ideas, but reading it was harder work than it should have been.

The story concerns the fall of an advertising agency in the middle of the last decade. Clients can no longer afford the big bills and the writing is on the wall for the agency staff as the work dries up and they are left wondering who will “walk Spanish” (be laid off) next. We are introduced to a hotch-potch of characters who a little bit like someone you once worked with. Believable and with sympathetic depth we watch as gossip and worry spread like wildfire around the organisation. The book charts its progress as the organisation spirals down.

There are many pastiche scenes that will appeal to anyone who worked in the tech or marketing industries in the last decade. Many of situations and characters are well observed and neatly constructed. And the underlying madness of office rules and convention – everyone’s chair having a serial number for example – are explored at some length. The descriptions of how the vultures descend when someone departs as everyone wants first look at the furniture and tat they have left behind.

Billed as a comedy, I found no laugh out loud moments. There is an underlying farce to the situations and the people, but the final chapters become truly unbelievable and at times a little bit silly. Joshua Ferris clearly knew where he wanted to take Then we came to the end but you are can’t help wondering if he tried a little too hard to make it too clever. The “we” perspective is annoying as you feel like you are never truly inside the heads of the protagonists. And then suddenly half way through there are a few lucid chapters all from Lynn’s – the office boss – perspective, before resorting back to the “we” form again.

Perhaps I am just not hip or trendy enough to appreciate the ironic form of this novel, but ultimately a novel should be a good read as well as exploration of the writer’s cleverness.

Just remember Joshua, no one loves a smarty pants…

Rating: 3.5

Published: Penguin in 2008
Price: £7.99
ISBN: 9781856131575