Bantam, £11.99, ISBN 978-0-593-06478-8
e² is the loose sequel to one of my favorite comedies of all time, e.. You can read this book without having read e., but where’s the fun in that, eh? Of course, I keep my expectations low when I begin reading e² because sequels tend to be inferior in some ways. It’s a cosmic law. Even so, I remain vaguely unsatisfied with this one at the end of the day.
It is 2008, roughly ten years since we last saw the merry scamps in e., and this time, Mr Beaumont takes us to Meerkat 360, a truly contemporary design agency. Some familiar characters are found here. David Crutton has been hired to manage Meerkat 360 and he’s having a tough time adjusting to the modern sensibilities of the 21st century agency. Such as being called “The Man”, for example. What’s wrong with the good old-fashioned “boss”?
Both men would be horrified to realize this, but Liam O’Keefe also feels the same way. A designer in Meerkat 360, Liam feels like an antique. He’s balding, overweight, and confused by how his younger colleagues operate. Liam has also acquired an uncontrollable gambling habit, racking up enormous debts and causing his long-suffering girlfriend Lorraine Pallister to dump him shortly before this book begins.
Susi Judge-Davis-Gaultier has no such problems adjusting to the modern times, however. Having acquired a rich French husband and the position of the PA to the Creative Director Ted Berry, she’s busy having a blast with the other PAs – Milton Keane, who wonders why everyone thinks he’s gay, and Dotty Podidra, David’s PA who exhibits a mortal flaw in the world of advertising: loyalty. There are other assorted characters including a foul-mouthed receptionist, a dim-witted copywriter who lives in his own world, and David’s hilarious and long-suffering caustic wife Janice. Oh, and Simon Horne is back, as is Pertti Van Helden.
Instead of using merely emails, e² also incorporates MSN transcripts, SMS, and blog entries to tell the whole story of what happens in one impossibly insane year in Meerkat 360. The whole thing works very well, I must say, especially the blog entries which are just too sidesplitting funny. I dare you to read Janice’s fantasy of killing her husband for being a wretch during her pregnancy without laughing.
e² is funny, oh yes. Milton Keynes is ridiculous and pathetic to laugh at, what little of Donald Gold in this book is too much fun, and Janice is glorious as the man who wears the pants in the Crutton household. Despite my aversion to teenage characters in general, the two Crutton brats are also amusing in their wild rebellious ways.
However, the whole thing leaves me vaguely unsatisfied because the ending is so sappy for a story of this kind. The story becomes darker as I turn the pages because Liam’s actions become more and more beyond the pale even as David turns crazy, but by the time the book ends, Mr Beaumont tries hard to convince me that these two men will become the perfect boyfriend or husband for their respective partners. I’d have preferred seeing Meerkat 360 crash and burn instead of this sappy turn of events. There are also some missed opportunities – some characters are never developed to their full comic potential while everything that has to do with that mentally vacant Harvey Harvey is an unfunny chore to read.
But a more significant issue here is that, unlike e. where the satirical elements are obvious and applicable across offices in a wide range of industry, e² focuses on increasingly farcical and over-the-top situations. These may be funny to read, but I miss the biting way Mr Beaumont took the mickey out of office politics in e..
e² is, for all my nitpicking, a laugh-out-loud read as well as a fantastic way to escape from the blues. If I find it lacking somewhat compared to e., that is because e is a fantastic near-perfect work of beauty. This is a fun read, but I don’t think anyone can blame me for preferring the original. Nonetheless, this is a lovely complement to e.. I wish I know what happened to rest of the crew from the old Miller-Shanks UK, though.