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Posts Tagged ‘bus drivers’

I order fiction for my public library and when I came across glowing reviews of the new American edition of Magnus Mills‘ novel, The Maintenance of Headway, I was struck by two thoughts: 1) no matter how much I read, and how much I follow the publishing world, there will always be wonderful authors out there I have somehow missed and 2) I really wanted to bring this author to our library collection because we don’t own any of his previous work, not even his first novel, The Restraint of Beastswhich won wide acclaim, awards, and nominations.

So this weekend I read The Maintenance of Headway, which is a book told from the point of view of a double decker bus driver. The title refers to “The notion that a fixed interval between buses on a regular service can be attained and adhered to.” The narrator and his fellow drivers carry on their routes with occasional interference — or is it lubrication? — from inspectors, whose job it is to oversee the maintenance of headway and overcome the problems that arise when buses draw too close together or too far apart.

Being late is acceptable, being early is not. Edward, one of the drivers, notes, “Lateness is something they know how to deal with. They can quantify it, label it, and apportion blame accordingly.” If you’re sensing an absurdist flavor you’re right — a novel about keeping buses running a certain number of minutes apart even if that means discharging passengers before the end of the route or redirecting a bus so that it heads north when it had been heading south, in the interest of the maintenance of headway, is dealing deeply with the ridiculous.

And that’s what I loved about it. I enjoy dry British humor. Mills wittily magnifies the quirks and habits of the drivers, the million little factors that speed or slow a bus route (traffic lights, weather, number of passengers, even waterworks maintenance), and the way the drivers who become inspectors embrace their new power. It’s also a lovely read; the descriptions of the narrator’s view from the driver’s seat of his bus and the admiration he has for the buses and the system are somehow beautiful.

But is it all about the buses? Near the end of the book, the narrator notes, “It was people of one kind or another who ultimately disrupted the bus service. Sometimes I even wondered whether they wanted buses in the first place: I was once driving up the rise toward the common with about forty people on board when suddenly my bus ran out of diesel and stopped. Without exception the entire load of passengers got out of the bus and walked away, all in different directions. As I watched them disperse I was unable to answer the question: what are we here for?”

I don’t know about you, but that question is one of the reasons I read. The Maintenance of Headway is a book you want to talk about as soon as you’re done reading it, a book that lingers in the mind. Look for it.

Also, I hate summer reading lists, but I love Books on the Nightstand, and their summer reading bingo card seems like a fun way to try something new this summer, if that’s something you enjoy. I think I’m going to give it a go.

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