Melting in the Middle by Andy Howden
“Do good among the carnage” may be the slogan for this book of contemporary challenges for a man struggling with all elements of his life. Not that it is a miserable book in any sense; on the contrary it is full of humour as Stephen struggles with the problems of twenty-first century life. There are many chocolate related jokes as he works as Marketing director for an old established firm of chocolate manufacturers, even though they are struggling with their product lines of Bingo Bars, Munchy Moments and Little Monkeys. Stephen is divorced, wanting to share in the care of his two teenage children despite their reluctance to actually talk to him. It is only meeting Rachel, who has other priorities, that Stephen begins to see a way of coping with his life. Much of the humour in this book comes from the antics of an American company, Schmaltz, in the person of Brad Hardman, who is determined to take over Europe. As company-speak and management jargon are deployed to express some really daft ideas, Stephen struggles to keep his sanity in this mainly light hearted novel. Funny, touching and immensely relatable, this genuinely enjoyable book looks at the problems of parenting, work and relationships in a confusing world. Howden has a real gift for creating and maintaining characters who come alive on the page, whether it is a sophisticated Italian or a sulky teenager. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this entertaining book.
The book begins with Stephen at a business meeting, where he silently despairs of his colleagues and their presentations regarding the business of selling chocolate bars. There is a disquieting rumour that the struggling Grimley’s is about to be taken over, and he is thrown by the risk to his job which means he can stay local for his children on the alternate weekends when he has access. Saddened, he goes home via Cambridge, where he hears a beautiful hymn sung in a college chapel. He reluctantly goes to a neighbours’ party, where he meets the younger and unusual Rachel, who seems very different from anyone else he has ever met. As a result he finds himself at a church service, a little bewildered. It does not take long for the takeover to become reality, and accordingly Stephen and a group of his colleagues are taken to a tatty hotel just outside Paris, where they are subjected to a rally style meeting to whip up enthusiasm for the takeover. Hardman announces his dramatic methods to improve sales and his dubious choices of managers, including Carol, a young woman that Stephen knows well. When a whole new way of working is introduced, he has to take action to cut the workforce in his department. Rachel encourages him to try and do what is necessary, but with a certain amount of kindness. Can he hope to “do good among the carnage”?
This is a very enjoyable book which pokes gentle fun at contemporary business practices, which can run roughshod over established ways of working. It also manages to show the very real difficulties of being a parent to teenagers, coping with an ex partner and much more. It is an enjoyable read with a real plot, characters that are consistent and an underlying humour. I recommend it as an entertaining read.