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Tags: synopsis book review Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About Mil Millington Orion Publishing Co 9780753820735
Added: 5 months ago
From: Gold Star
Things My Girlfriend And I Have Argued About is the name of a web site, a column in The Guardian, and a novel written by English writer Mil Millington. The web site deals with arguments the author has had with his German girlfriend, Margret; the novel is fiction, though it revolves around arguments the English protagonist has had with his German girlfriend.
Novel plot summary
Pel lives with his German girlfriend Ursula and their two children, and works in the IT department of a university library (or "Learning Centre"). The story begins with Pel receiving an odd call from his boss, TSR, who quizzes him about extradition treaties; within a week he has vanished without a trace, and Pel promoted to TSR's former position, "Computer Team Administration, Software Acquisition and Training Manager" (though, in addition to his own job).
The story follows both Pel's home and work lives; at home, there are the arguments with Ursula over the search for a new home, after the latest burglary of their current home; defrosting the fridge during the moving preparations; Ursula terrifying the builders working on the repairs of the new house; a skiing accident, leaving Ursula with a torn ligament in her shoulder.
At work, Pel finds that taking on TSR's job involves more than it seemed at first; he has to pay off student recruiters from the Pacific Ring, who happen to be members of The Triads; he has to take care of the details of the building of a new Learning Centre building, which involves hiding the fact that skeletons from an ancient burial ground have been illegally dumped from the site, and a dangerous neurotoxin to be buried under it.
These details lead him to become closely involved with the permanently hung over Vice Chancellor of the university, which leads to his receiving another promotion, to Learning Centre Manager; the previous holder of that position having left to pursue his fetish website.
Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About: A Novel
by Mil Millington
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Villard; 1 edition (January 14, 2003)
A voice drifts up from below. "What are you doing?" My girlfriend asks.
"Nothing." I reply.
"Then you can help me with the dishes," she says.
"I'm busy." I yell downstairs.
I'm sitting in front of a blank computer screen, thinking and writing about nothing. I stare into the abyss and the abyss stares back. It's ok. I'm a man and we do that sometimes. It's Zen in the art of being a guy. I am a whirlwind at rest, serenity in action. I am in the zone. I am zenned. Sure, I could be striving for that cherished Pulitzer. Writing about world hunger, of mans inhumanity to man, of kinder and gentler political regimes, even how to grill the perfect steak, but I'm in the moment, at one with the keyboard. The perfect lead into my next column will come, because you can't step into the same river twice, and my fuzzy bunny slippers are still dry.
"Take out the trash, if you aren't doing anything!" hollers my girlfriend.
Damn, my bubble of tranquility has burst, and I have nothing, nothing at all...
Nothing keeps a relationship on its toes so much as lively debate. Fortunately, my girlfriend and I agree on nothing, nothing at all. Nobody knows the dynamics of long-term relationships better than Mil Millington, author of Things My Girlfriend And I Have Argued About.
Mil started out writing his column for the British paper, The Guardian. The column, it turns out, is about things that Mil and his girlfriend Margaret argue about. They argue about the remote, the proper way to cut a kiwi, and even argue about arguments.
Things My Girlfriend And I Have Argued About, the novel, begins with our protagonist, Pel, his German girlfriend Ursula, and their two children. Pel works in the IT department of a university library (or "Learning Centre"-- he is a British writer after all). Pel receives an odd call from his boss, TSR, who quizzes him about extradition treaties; within a week he has vanished without a trace, and Pel is promoted to TSR's former position, CTASATM- "Computer Team Administration, Software Acquisition and Training Manager". Have to love those acronyms.
The story follows both Pel's home and work lives. At home, there are the arguments with Ursula over the search for a new home, after the latest burglary of their current home; defrosting the fridge during the moving preparations; Ursula terrifying the builders working on the repairs of the new house; a skiing accident, leaving Ursula with a torn tendon in her shoulder.
At work, Pel finds that taking on TSR's job involves more than it seemed at first; he has to pay off student recruiters from the Pacific Rim, who happen to be members of The Triads, the oriental version of organized crime. He has to take care of the details of the building of a new Learning Centre building, which involves hiding the fact that skeletons from an ancient burial ground have been illegally moved from the site, and a dangerous neurotoxin is to be buried under the new addition--a dual semester science project by an unsupervised student.
These details lead him to become closely involved with the permanently hung over Vice Chancellor of the university, which leads to his receiving another promotion, to Learning Centre Manager. The previous holder of that position having left to pursue his fetish website, and well things just get stranger from there.
This is Mil's first novel and he does tend to hang a more-or-less useless plot on the concept of "things". In many places in seems to be a collection of his columns inserted into a novel. But he has great comic timing and his turn of phrasing will keep you entertained. He's so deft and downright funny that it'll get you kicked out of bed and probably start another one of those "arguments". His humor is distinctly English.
It could be the couple bickering over their flatpack futon in Ikea's longest, slowest-moving queue ever or, perhaps, the pair sat just a waitress-width away, hissing at each other across a starched white square of candlelit tablecloth. Either way, it's a sordid fact of life that most of us would have pricked up our ears and tuned in by now. They may be nail-scrapingly tedious, but other people's domestics are also entirely compelling and it is precisely this glass-against-wall instinct that Mil Millington excites.
Misleadingly, Things My Girlfriend And I Have Argued About shares a title with Millington's column and the website that began it all, in which he comically lists the very many things that he and his German girlfriend have quarrelled over. While its first-person narrative does indeed centre on a feuding Anglo-German couple, this debut is a novel, and standing in for Mil and his real-life girlfriend are Pel Dalton and Ursula Krotenjager.
Pel, armed with his degree in social geography, muddles through as an IT manager at the University of North-Eastern England (UoNE) Learning Centre, previously known as the library, while Ursula is 'a tall, blue-eyed blonde with a Baywatch mouth' that barks orders backed by promises violent enough to make builders cry. Ursula's nationality provides a rich seam of discord, but it also hauls female readers onside with Pel's first-person narrative from the start: it's fine to hate her, since she loathes us and all 'British Women'.
In the course of 300-plus pages, Pel and Ursula manage to disagree on everything, from the finer points of semantics to the size of his penis, and Millington has them move house and go on holiday (skiing with Ursula's family, no less), leaving them just one Christmas short of a decree nisi.
Of course, there is never any real threat of a split; in psychobabble, this couple connect through arguing. Fast and furious, they set to with urgency - in the car, the supermarket, the shower, while hurtling down pistes and even in their sleep, their two weary bodies hugging the 'X' formation that is 'Angry Position Four'. Well-rehearsed rows run to pages before degenerating into did-didn't-did and final-says sneaked in sotto voce.
Unlike so many 'relationship' novels, there is plenty of real drama here. It all begins when Pel's boss, Terry Steven Russell ('TSR'), vanishes; a stunned Pel is promoted to Computer Team Administration, Software Acquisition and Training Manager ('Seeteeayessaytee-em'), and is soon at the centre of an imbroglio involving Triad gangs, ancient corpses and deadly nerve gas. The plot escalates with all the shameless hyperbole needed to fuel a really good row, and Pel's stock response of 'Um' is usurped by anguished 'Aaarrrggghhhs' as he risks the sack, imprisonment and murder. Still, it's the action in the domestic arena - injustices at the 'eight items or less' checkout; more strife at parents' evening; the discovery of a growing paunch - that looms largest.
With luck, another perk of Ursula's alien status will be that TMGAIHAA evades the masculinity-in-crisis pigeonhole, for while it lacks some of the zany appeal of the columns, this is a very funny book.
Had the group of friends at the centre of Shane Watson's debut ever given in to a row, the events she describes could doubtless have been avoided; this would be a great shame, since The One To Watch is a witty tale well told.
Another romantic comedy of sorts, it analyses the impact a sudden death has on a group of friends. Amber Best, former 'It' girl-turned-bucolic rock wife and earth mum, has died on the eve of her fortieth birthday; she had told none of her closest friends that she was ill, leaving them to wonder if they ever really knew her or, as the secrets spill out, anyone else.
Watson gives a cast of hand-me-down characters (the mag hag, the childless soak, the lovelorn singleton) a depth and warmth that this spike-heeled genre rarely allows. There's Jacqueline, or Jack, Amber's old schoolfriend; Jack's friend Sam, a gardener whose 'scarecrow' charm is edging him up on to the C-list; nice Andrew, her university chum, and his disappointed wife, Lydia; and finally Amanda, editor of La Mode, a Basildon blonde done good, whose hairdressing past may yet come back to haunt her.
In a world built on artifice, on the cool-hunter's spin and the stylist's gloss, reality is hard to come by. Amber's most recent success had been as the star of Garden, Kitchen, Bedroom - The Secrets of Family Life, a series filmed in her country pile that neatly rolled Nigella, Charlie Dimmock and Linda Barker into one. Just as the manic hyperbole of argument inflects Mil Millington's novel, so the medium of television is woven into plot of The One to Watch, and each chapter is prefaced with snatches of The Real Amber Best documentary to which they are contributing.
This is a highly enjoyable novel, a frothy fusion of chick and hen lit, studded with spot-on observations about class, success and seduction. All the key setpieces are here - the date that ends in A&E, the dinner party whose guests all depart before the first course is cleared - and the cast exits hand-in-hand, two-by-two. Yet having witnessed so much artifice stripped bare, this happy, symmetrical ending takes on enough of an illusory quality to give it, if not depth, then a mesmerising surface sheen.
Millington's debut novel is an outgrowth of his Web site of the same name, on which he has been posting, for the last year, comic vignettes about life with his German girlfriend. Predictably, it consists mostly of comic bickering between first-person narrator Pel Dalton and his own German girlfriend, the insouciant Ursula Kretenjeger. The couple lives in a ramshackle, dirt-cheap house in "an area of the northeast of England so dire that the government was applying for a grant from the European Union for it to be placed under martial law" with their two young sons. Pel is something of a slacker ("for me, half-heartedness is a full-quarter too hearted"), the bumbling head of an IT team at the local university library. After their house is broken into, the marginally more conventional Ursula insists they look for something in a better neighborhood. House hunting, like most of the other plot turns in the book-which include Pel taking over for his mysteriously vanished boss and becoming the courier for a Chinese gang-is mostly an opportunity for lots of funny sparring on every subject from whose turn it is to defrost the refrigerator to whether "cock" or "dick" is the better euphemism for penis. Overall, the comic material is uneven; some of it is overwritten and a bit obvious, but at its best, Pel's narration is side-splitting. There are no shattering insights about men and women, but the book never pretends to be more than it is: an entertaining and genuinely funny romp through the trials of coupledom.
The battle of the sexes continues unabated in British author Millington's quirkily comic debut novel. Pel and his German girlfriend, Ursula, have two children and any number of differences between them. He watches a lot of television and so can be depended on to know when Britain declares war on, say, Finland. Ursula is more outgoing and talks to the neighbors a lot, so she knows, for instance, what neighbor is harboring nuclear weapons in the garage. Pel works in the computer section of a library or, more properly, a Learning Centre, which is attached to a shiny new university whose students are recruited by a Japanese crime syndicate. What's more, the new computer lab is being built over the remains of an antediluvian graveyard, which raises the interesting issue of what to do with the bodies. Speaking of which, after a top administrator disappeared a number of years ago (and nobody noticed), her salary has funded many such valuable projects. Students of academic satire such as James Hynes's Lecturer's Tale will find much that might be familiar and funny here. The inevitable comparisons with Nick Hornby shouldn't detract from Millington's unique, laugh-out-loud take on sexual and academic shenanigans. For all large public libraries.
Look, there's no easy way to say this, so I'm just going to come right out with it, all right?
I work in a library.
There. There, I've told you, and I feel somehow cleansed. That said, I do need to press on pretty quickly and explain that it's not a public library. Ahhh, what a delicious dream that would be; old men with Thermos flasks quietly asleep in the newspaper section, erratically cut handouts for the women's keep-fit club at the local community center, access to the lucrative Catherine Cookson reservation list - you could go gently mad in a place like that and never be bothered by anyone. Sadly, the cradling arms of such a library were not around me.
Presumably because I spent a previous life beating tiny puppies with thorny sticks, I had been cast into the library at the University of Northeastern England. "UoNE" to its friends (which, at the last count, numbered the Vice-Chancellor, the Vice-Chancellor's personal financial adviser and the owner of the liquor store a dog's walk from the Vice-Chancellor's house).
As becomes its stature, the UoNE had its own logo (a Day-Glo orange "UoNE" in shadowed blocks above the motto - written in ersatz, fast-flowing handwriting to convey a "modern," "pacesetting" feel - "We take absolutely anyone") and its own set of degree courses, including "Scratch-card studies," "Eggs and stuff you can do with them," and the groundbreaking "Turning up."
Yeah, pardon me. I jest.
I've said that I work in the library at the UoNE, but that was just me momentarily lapsing into the English language. Where I actually work is the "Learning Center." A "library," it came to someone as a particularly traumatic epiphany, evokes a place that holds books, whereas a "learning center" is a place that holds books and other stuff too; like computers, for example. You can see the problem. Go into a "pub" that turned out to - what the hell? - provide a television showing satellite sports channels as well as selling beer, and all you thought you knew about semantics would spiral away into an unmappable chaos, yes? Equally, ask for the way to the library and some wag directing you to a learning center instead could quite easily result in a shock that left you bald, skittish and unable to form satisfactory relationships for the rest of your life.
My job in the Learning Center, on this particular Monday morning, was to be the Supervisor of the Computer Team. Please don't think that this makes me a techie, computer geek type. No, I took great pride in the fact that I really had very little idea what I was doing at all. A few key phrases will get you a long way in IT technical support. "Ah, looks like a server problem," for example, has kept many a technician in paid employment for years. Another invaluable standby is to tut out a rueful smile and read aloud the name written on the computer in front of you - "Yeah, the TX Series are notorious for doing this" - that'll work for anything from the mouse pointer not moving to a minor fire. If you really want to get ahead, then a few minutes memorizing the full meaning of a couple of dozen acronyms turns you from (let's say) some idiot with a degree in social geography and a mad German girlfriend into a powerful shaman. Casually let slip that the "http" in web addresses is short, of course, for Hypertext Transfer Protocol, and your boss will infer that you have more than not the remotest idea whatsoever about how a hypertext transfer protocol functions - and then won't dare sack you for something trivial as, say, none of the PCs in the building working.