Sunday, March 15, 2015

Terms & Conditions - the legal small print

book review

Book: Terms & Conditions
Author: Robert Glancy

"I have read and agree to the terms and conditions." How many times have you clicked the accept button on a similar message without looking at a single word on the multi-page agreement that crops up every time you try to install an application on your computer or phone? Quite often? Then you are not alone. Most of us don't bother to read the fine print before agreeing to terms or signing lengthy contracts. For all we know, we signed away all of our rights the last time we accepted the iTunes contractual terms, and Apple Inc. can now legally lay claim to our souls.

Quite possibly the only people who really know what is in these documents are the individuals who write them. In Terms & Conditions by Robert Glancy, our narrator, Franklyn Shaw, is one such individual. He is a corporate lawyer who creates contracts for a living and specialises in fine print. But as the story begins, he knows as much about himself as we do. Frank, it turns out, has lost his memory.

Following a car accident, Frank wakes up in a hospital with a bout of amnesia. He has no recollection of who he is, who his family members are, or what led to his crash. All he knows for sure is that something awful happened, but no one is willing to tell him what.

As he recovers and eases back into his life, things seem to be fine on the surface. His wife, Alice, is beautiful. His flat is amazing. His older brother Oscar is also his boss; they both work at Shaw & Sons, which was founded by their grandfather, then run by their father, and is now headed by Oscar. His younger brother, Malcolm, is nowhere to be found, but based on his email correspondence, is a lovable free spirit off on yet another adventure in some distant corner of the world.

But when memories gradually start floating back into his mind, the fractures in Frank's existence start to become visible. As he pieces his life back together, resentments and regrets start to catch up. Thereality of his strained marriage and neurotic work as a 'legal chimpanzee' leads him to the realisation that old Frank was quite miserable. New Frank now has a chance to rewrite the terms and conditions of his life, and set things right.

Drenched in dark wit and fuelled by wry humour, Terms & Conditions is a deliciously clever exposé on the human condition by way of one man's journey of self-discovery and self-realisation. Thanks to the writer's disarming tone, Frank is an instantly likable protagonist and is incredibly easy to root for. If you have stumbled at any point in your life, then you are likely to find the narrator very relatable.

Styled like the contracts that Frank has been toiling over for years, Terms & Conditions makes use of amusing footnotes that are peppered through the book, and give the protagonist's thoughts a chance to take witty detours. Some might find these footnotes intrusive, and going back and forth between the text and footer can be a bit distracting, but for the most part, this literary device works surprisingly well and gives the book a unique spin.

While the plot itself isn't very complex and the general arc of the narrative is quite predictable, the story is still poignant and leaves you with much to think about. Author Robert Glancy who was born in Zambia, raised in Malawi, studied at Cambridge, and now lives in New Zealand has come up with a charming debut novel that puts his cynical sense of humour to good use. The book is fun and light even when its subject matter isn't. The prose is smooth, lively and enjoyable. Most of the characters are realistic and properly fleshed out (although a few are a tad one-dimensional).

Terms & Conditions is an engaging novel writ-ten in a delightfully quirky way. The author's style elevates a simple story into an enjoyable reading experience. The book is a fairly quick read, but depending on their taste, some readers might struggle with its pace. If you want an action-packed outing, then Terms & Conditions isn't the right book for you, but if you appreciate self-reflective satire, then you will find this tome very rewarding. Ultimately, unlike their iTunes counterparts, Robert Glancy's terms and conditions are very enjoyable and well worth a read.

- By Sameen Amer

Books & Authors, Dawn - 15th March, 2015 *

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