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This is something of a disappointment after Microserfs and J Cube. Certainly I don’t feel that it lives up to the legend. Perhaps it was more shocking in 1990, and certainly I feel it would have helped me if I had read it then instead of leaving it until after generations Y and Z have come and gone.
At the time the book was published I was just starting out in the world, at university studying for my first degree. The sense of alienation felt by my generation was all-pervasive, it was hard if not impossible to take the idea of participation in what we saw as a sick society seriously. We had grown up through the consumerism of the 1980s, with its yuppies and its aspirationism. We wanted something different, something real. We were used to being surrounded by plastic disposable culture, hounded by tories to earn money for its own sake and feeling like we just didn’t want to be part of the behmoth of modern western society but not having viable alternatives. There just didn’t seem to be any point. Over-educated and under-employed, that was the definition of Generation X. My friend with a First Class Chemistry degree from Oxford University, working in the local off-licence. Because who wanted to work for ICI? There was a tiny margin between unemployment benefits and the wages to be expected (there was no minimum wage or tax credits – if you worked, you could easily lose income). Instead of trying to form careers, we tried to think of jobs that would do no harm, at least, that didn’t benefit the capitalist machine at the expense of society, the environment or morality. It wasn’t easy at all.
So the book was a bit of a trip down memory lane, but to be honest it didn’t do much for me. The characters drifted aimlessly much as we had, but there seemed to be no overall message other than that. Perhaps I missed it. But it seemed adolescent – immature writing from someone who went on to show a lot of talent for deadpan humour.
I’d only recommend this book on the grounds that it is considered a modern classic, and christened a generation. Don’t read it for pleasure, there is no structure, plot or theme to be had. Or was that the intention? An aimless, pointless book for an aimless, pointless cadre.
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