Work in Progress by Dan Brotzel, Martin Jenkins & Alex Woolf
This is a very funny, clever and unusual book. Told in an erratic collection of emails between eight members of a writing group, it exposes their personalities, lives and obsessions with graphic thoroughness as they offer up everything from mundane group matters to personal revelations. It also demonstrates the reality of life for aspiring writers, from the prolific self published to the woman struggling with her first sentence. It has much to say about friendship, lifestyles and the basic choice to write. Ranging from the writer of a contemporary scandal novel through angst ridden poetry to a writer of voluminous fantasy, the emails are written in haste, at leisure, and are sometimes misdirected. There are never descriptions of the actual meetings as such, just reactions to what happens from various group members. This is particularly memorable in the case of the actions of one writer who has aspirations to be a performance artist, and whose antics are certainly memorable.
This is an enjoyable book which I read very rapidly as it flows well over a period of nine months from December 2016 when Julia, actress, advertises for members of a group to meet in various houses, from the first responses each person reveals something of their character. It is such a cleverly written novel in which the three authors have produced consistent and very different characters who function well throughout the book. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this very different sort of fictional book which carries some well observed insights.
The title, Work in Progress, refers to the various pieces of work that the writers have all embarked on as the group is established. In their emails each writer gives some detail of what they are working on. Keith produces realms of fantasy which he has been self publishing for some time. It is very complex, involving many characters, strange situations and even made up languages. He writes so much so fast that he is the despair of Alice, who is in a permanent state of uncertainty about the first sentence of her novel. Tom has a secret which goes beyond his romantic ambitions. Peter’s search for conceptual art projects lends a certain element to the meetings. Jon has suspicions of unexplained forces, but at least he turns up to meetings, which is more than Mavinder does. Blue’s poetry is angst filled, in contrast to Julia’s rather steamy novel which seems to be creating some interest beyond the group.
As meetings get more dramatic and frankly strange, this funny and exciting book provides enormous entertainment from its characters with their idiosyncrasies and strange activities. As the book progresses, situations get more convoluted, and deeply strange things happen. The activities that the members get up to in between meetings are truly remarkable, reported on as they are in emails which reveal tantalising details. Not that the meetings themselves are dull affairs; as each person reports on them from their own viewpoints they seem the most entertaining affairs as each member takes their turn to host and provide refreshments. This book will be of interest to those who have experience of writing groups as they recognise an exaggerated version of familiar events, and I think nearly everyone will enjoy it as an entertaining and very funny novel.