Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About – Mil Millington, 2002.

A few years ago (it may have been due to the wonderful NTK Now) I stumbled across the Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About website and spent at least a few hours there, laughing at the hysterical essays and enthralled by the story about the Mail on Sunday stealing Millington’s stuff. So when I heard that TMGAIHAA was being turned into a book, my ears perked up. Not just a book of essays–a novel. Hmmmm….that didn’t sound good, but I saw some positive reviews and I ordered it for the library. And it’s fantastic! It’s got the comedy of the website wrapped around a great plot–it holds together brilliantly, and in that way reminds me of Big Trouble, Dave Barry’s first novel (which was astonishingly good, way better than anyone could have expected).

Clearly the basics are the same as the (suppposed) non-fiction Millington writes for the website; Mil has become Pel, his German girlfriend Margret has become Ursula but preserved her insanely quarrelsome nature, they have two kids, and a lot of the humor revolves around Mil/Pel’s bemused reactions to the nuts surrounding him. But he also steps up to the level of satire, particularly about workplace issues and academics (Pel works in a university library’s computer center, although alas there wasn’t enough library detail for me). One of the highlights is when Pel has to lead an all-day retreat for dozens of co-workers, having completely forgotten about it until that morning.

[officious manager Bernard]: “…because we’re going on it today. Now.”

“Oh shit.”

“You do have it all organized, don’t you? I have asked a couple of times before and you’ve said…”

“No, it’s all sorted.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes, what’s the…Oh, I see–the ‘Oh shit’ thing. Internet slang; it means ‘Oh, shit.'” Unable to repeat the words with anything but the same inflection of sagging hopelessness, I did add two thumbs-up signs as I said it this time. “You know, like ‘Let’s go.'” I did the thumbs-up signs again. Bernard nodded. I could see he wanted to find this convincing, he really wanted to. “Oh shit,” I said with thumbs one more time.

“I’ve never heard that before,” said Bernard.

“It’s a recent thing.”

The job problems and trouble he gets into with Ursula are just as nail-biting as the main plot, which involves a boss who’s disappeared (Pel has to take over his position, which is where the retreat assignment came from), Chinese gangsters, illegal construction, and missing money. Well-written, well-paced, brilliant dialogue, and laughs on every page–this is an amazing first novel.

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