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A decade ago, Matt Beaumont wrote what was one of the earliest, if not the first, book using only E-Mails. "E" was a hilarious look behind the walls of an advertising agency and was by turn ridiculous and hilarious. The follow up, "The E Before Christmas" was a shameless cash in, but after several years and several other books, some written in a slightly more regular format, Beaumont has returned to his original format, if not exactly to the scene of the crime.
This time around, we follow the staff of an advertising agency (now known as a "Thought Collective") called Meerkat360. As with the earlier book, we are introduced to the main characters and how the business works (or, frequently, doesn't) very early on. This time around this is achieved thanks to an annual family circular from Janice Crutton and from a catch up E-Mail from Liam O'Keefe to his mate Brett Topolski.
We swiftly get to meet the remaining cast of characters who will take us through this first month of 2009 at Meerkat360. There are some familiar faces, added to by the foul-mouthed Roisin O'Hooligan on reception and the P. A. Staff; Dotty, who lives up to her name completely and Milton Keane, who is so far in the closet that the next thing he sees is going to be Narnia. Add to this an Art Director who can kill a pit bull with his bare hands and restart a man's heart with a laptop as well as the slightly mentally challenged Harvey Harvey and you can tell it's going to be an interesting, if rather silly, ride once again.
We get to follow the month at Meerkat 360 as they attempt to present a rather strange list of celebrity perfume scents to one client, whilst try to find ways of selling cigarettes in a market that doesn't allow overt cigarette promotion. This whilst trying to battle with office thefts and one member of staff ending up in Guantanamo Bay whilst another is constantly off on self awareness away days. There are long lunches between some of the staff who get on well and catfights and insults between some of the ones who don't get on so well - often the same people!
There's a widening of scope of the story here compared to the last time, following the personal lives of the characters even more so than their professional ones. This results in some interesting side trips into Liam and Lorraine's break up, Milton's attempts at suicide and to get onto "Big Brother" and the slowly imploding family situation at the Crutton home. Perhaps most amusing, however, are the accounts of how Ted Berry spends his time out of the office. Personally and professionally, the cast of characters here are lurching from disaster to disaster and whilst it's entirely unbelievable, it's also almost entirely funny.
This time around, Beaumont takes advantage of the advances in communication since the original book and it's not just E-Mails, but SMS messages, MSN conversations, some blog posts and even a couple of voicemail messages. E-Mails are to the fore, but it's great to see that Beaumont has kept up with advances and the additional types of post allows for some amusing longer posts and to get some thoughts from people who aren't on the Meerkat360 E-Mail list and so may have been missed out otherwise. Especially as one of those people in Simon Horne, an inclusion which will delight fans of the earlier book, especially given what happens to him and the family Van Helden, who previous Beaumont readers will also be very familiar with.
There are some aspects to the story where it helps to have read Beaumont's earlier work, "E", but this is not essential. Indeed, as a fan of the previous books, I frequently found myself wondering what had happened during the intervening years. Frequent references to an event that must have happened before the opening to this book about "the thing with the thing" bemused me as much as it would do new readers to the series. There are parts that will seem to have been clearly missed to readers new to Beaumont, but the previous fan is in not much of a stronger position regarding events, merely with some of the characters.
Whether you've read Beaumont before or not, you need to be able to put credulity to one side, as there's next to none of it here. Everything is exaggerated to the point where it becomes unbelievable, particularly with such a small cast of characters. However, this doesn't mean what goes on isn't ridiculously funny at times. The "Winter Sun" fiasco and the stories around that, as well as the BizzyJet incidents are unlikely, but superbly done and some of the titles of the away days Caroline Zitter ends up on are highly amusing. Amusingly, it's what Liam O'Keefe gets up to that stretches the imagination the most and this has an extra hilarity to it, as he seems one of the more mature characters in his E-Mails, yet not by his actions.
For anyone who hated "Who Moved My Blackberry?", this is proof that a book written in E-Mails can be done well in the right hands. For anyone who enjoys a book that will make them laugh, but doesn't mind a little juvenile humour, this will entertain greatly. For those who have read Beaumont's previous work, particularly "E", this is one not to be missed. With prices as low as £2.60 from eBay or £3.05 on Play Trade, this is well worth the money for the enjoyment it will bring.
e² is the sequel to Matt Beaumont's first novel e. which was hugely successful but which I haven't read. It's told entirely in the format of emails, text messages, instant messages and blog posts and answers some of lifes important questions: Can threatening to jump out of a window really make you a YouTube star and lead to an appearance on BB? Can you really sell off office furniture to pay off your debts? And, the most important of all, how on Earth do you type the accents above letters?
e² is a huge book. The large paperback contains 500 pages but you'll be surprised to learn it's an incredibly quick and easy read. There's always another crisis happening to keep you hooked and I whizzed through it. Like a previous book, Bad Money, I think it was, it's not character-central but more plot central and what it's like to work for Meerkat360.
There are a huge number of characters (many who appeared in e., if I'm not mistaken) so you need to flick back and forth between the pages regularly to check out who is who. I could generally keep up with everyone but it took a while! I have to say I'd love to work for Meerkat360 on account of how hilarious it would be to work there. I wish there really were an office like that one.
Not a page goes by without some disaster occuring, be it David Crutton wanting to get rid of "The Man" at the end of his emails or Donald Gold freaking out about aeroplanes (which by the way was ridiculously funny). Not only that but you have all of the PA's (Suzy (who has the longest surname ever), Dotty (who I loved) & Milton (the drama queen who is NOT gay) gossiping with each other as well as Liam O'Keefe trying to get his ex back as well as coming up with fab advertisements. There's also Caroline Zitter who is never in the office so we get to experience her wonderful and wacky auto-replies and Ted Berry - MC Ideaz - being bonkers. My personal favourites were Harvey Harvey (a bit on the weird side) and Roisin (the "I'm not Irish") receptionist. There are also a few more who all add to the book and the amusing moments.
As well as the amusing hytericalness of it all there are important issues throughout the book. Particularly with the Crutton family who do indeed give the Katona's a run for their money. They have huge issues, not only do David and Janice have marital problems but their children (Noah and Tamara) just rebel for the whole book. It's complete and utter madness. Another issue tackled is gambling debts which is handled rather amusingly as items keep disappearing from the office before we see their adverts up on Ebay. I knew exactly who it was, but found it amusing all the same.
I found myself laughing out loud on many occasions and it takes quite a book to make me laugh out loud. I'm only glad no one could hear me. The funniest moment for me was the coked-up dog who ran rampant around the office. Even remembering it now, it still amuses me. ("Harvey that wasn't sugar!")
e² probably isn't something I would have picked up myself so I'm thrilled I loved it as much as I did. It really is an amusing read. While the characters can take themselves seriously the book itself doesn't. It's slapstick, it's funny and it's just a really great read.