A comic thriller rooted in the public service world” is how author David Gaffney describes his uproarious, timely and occasionally disturbing 2008 novel Never, Never.
Gaffney used to work as a debt counsellor and that’s the job he’s given his protagonist, Eric McFarlane. But Eric is not only an expert at advising others on financial difficulties. He’s also adapted at playing the debtor-creditor game to live wildly beyond his means.
Gaffney gets a lot of laughs from his descriptions of how Eric thinks he can evade those who want their money back.
They preferred to stretch it out before court; letters, phone calls, calling at the door, more letters, more phone calls, more calling at your door, maybe a call at the work address, anything. Like some fragile sort of foreplay, some squarehead pretending he likes his earlobes sucked when he just wants to stick it in and get it over quick. And, with most debtors, dragging out the process worked. But not with Eric.
When Eric borrows money from a loan shark, however, he’s confronted with very different sorts of loan-recovery processes.
There’s a chuckle on practically every page, but Never, Never can also be quite touching in its depictions of who gets deep in the hock and why. One of Eric’s clients is a woman named Doreen who is approaching middle age and using material purchases to compensate for the horrors of getting older:
‘I look at myself and I wonder how I got here,’ she said. ‘I was twenty once, I was fun, I didn’t need to buy things, I didn’t need things, I had myself. But I seem to have lost myself along the way – and stuff, buying stuff that I like, it’s almost like having little children again. Putting things around you, things that might love you.’
Walk around a department store – or a high-end whisky shop for that matter – and you’ll probably see a few people like Doreen.
Since paying off a line of credit is a good way to get a bigger line of credit, Eric hatches a plan to exploit Doreen’s need to buy to fix his own personal financial crunch. Afterwards, he hits a pub to celebrate:
It was straight to the bank for Eric, where he paid over the 5,678 pounds including costs and then it was just a step across the road to the Three Tuns for Jennings and an Irish whiskey chaser. The whiskey jolt coaxed his cheeks into a broad smile and he turned to the barman and said: ‘What more can a sinner want at three-thirty in the afternoon than no work to be done, no one anywhere waiting for him and a pocket full of money for drink?’
But unbeknownst to Eric, Doreen has plans of her own for him – which leave him handcuffed to a radiator.
The particular strength of David Gaffney’s Never Never is the depiction of so-called empty materialism as a crux and crutch for feelings that are all too real, human and understandable. This is a topical novel, to be sure, but it also says something deeper and more timeless about way we shop – and tick.