The Contenders by Neil Fraser Addison

By day Tony works at a call centre (a chilling enough occupation) where he engages with the in-house counselling service which only threatens to depress him further. Because outside of work, Tony’s greatest life challenge is fighting his way through the hoards in the marked down section in Sainsbury to get a cheap pizza.  This is his personal battle ground, while his girlfriend Samantha takes on benefits fraudsters.  The mismatch of their experience and expectations is bound to have an explosive result.  Tony, like the products he searches for, seems to be on the reduced to clear shelf, while Samantha, who is being courted by a TV production company seems to be on the up.  The  dullness and insidious mundanity of Tony’s life is well drawn to keep the reader engaged and sympathetic to his plight, while aware that things are never going to work out well for such a man.

Tony and Samantha are well drawn modern characters but their mutual friend Edward takes the narrative to another level with his unique take on the world and his incredible devotion to World of World game. Edward observes how the price of everything is going up, except for the price of drugs, which is now so cheap that no one thinks twice about using them.  Addison uses his characters as a mouthpiece for some very biting and insightful commentary about modern urban living but he never preaches or loses the flow of narrative while doing so.  Edward’s ongoing battle with the local yobs is a great example of this skilful and realistic storytelling.

Tony and Samantha might seem ten a penny kind of people – the kind of people you’d sit next to on the tube-  but it is with Edward that we see the really scary side of modern consumer life. In his desire to get the latest consumer gadget he employs the kind of tactical planning that would have won wars.  He visualises his goal like an athlete in training. His preparation leaves nothing to chance. But then of course, the random element cannot be prepared for and it’s the random element which brings him down.

Quite the best element of the story is Addison’s imaginative creation World of World, which is plausible, chilling  and quite horrific. It’s Second Life meets Farmville with a horrific twist which clearly shows how plausible people are and how meaningless their lives have become in pursuit of the virtual consumerist lifestyle offered by the ‘game.’

After a very well developed build up, the story ends abruptly with a cataclysmic event and yet its abruptness, while providing an ending of sorts, actually gives us more of a challenge and left me desperate to find out more of what happens to Tony and Samantha. It’s the sort of abruptness that could leave a reader feeling ‘dissatisfied’ until you consider what Addison is trying to tell us. He’s come to a conclusion of sorts. He doesn’t have to give us the standard happy or tragic ending. He’s made his point. People’s lives are not neat progressive narratives. And his characters don’t want to remain just characters. You need to look at them as people too. It’s the writer’s prerogative to finish his novel on his terms. Just be warned. It’s a bit like being hit hard in the face and then falling off a cliff if you are used to narrative resolution.

So though I felt like a voyeur in their car crash of a relationship, and even though I think I could guess the next step of their lives, because they seemed doomed to go the way many 30 something lives go, I’m sure Addison could surprise us with a sequel, if he felt there was another story to tell about Tony and/or Samantha. I hope so, because I enjoy his style and characterisation and I think he has an interesting viewpoint on the contemporary world. This is a writer with much to say. I want to read more.

Reviewed by Cally Phillips

The Contenders is (not currently) available to purchase

Normally at this point I can tell you where the ebook is available from and how to find out more about the author. But I’m afraid currently The Contenders is a casualty of the epublishing wars. I’ll explain more about that tomorrow in a special post so please come back and find out the reality behind the virtual world of ebooks. In the meantime you MIGHT be able to find out more about Neil Addison  and if so, ask him to sell you a copy of this ebook. Pretty please.