You would be forgiven for not knowing who Joshua Ferris is. His is not a literary name so synonymous with fiction that you cannot ignore it, you could quite easily ignore it but I would suggest that you don’t. The publication of his début novel Then We Came to the End in 2007 earned Ferris the kind of critical acclaim that most young writers only dream of. Now comes the tricky ‘second album’ syndrome; can The Unnamed live up to the unavoidable hype and comparison?
The answer, in short, is yes it can. In the same way that no one does middle-aged smut quite like Joan Collins and J.K. Rowling has clearly made the world of teenage wizardry her bitch, Joshua Ferris has the post-modern angst market cornered. The Unnamed is the story of Tim Farnsworth, a man whose life is thrown into chaos when his body forces him to walk for miles against his will with seemingly no hope of a cure, not even a name with which he can identify his strange affliction. The story is a powerful one, pushing difficult realities at you constantly as Ferris pulls you along in the monotony of the walks his protagonist takes; what would you do if you could not see your wife and child, how do you recover from illness knowing that it could reclaim you at any moment? And most importantly what if you could not work, in a time where so people are defined by their careers? Ferris expertly taps into this modern phenomenon by setting his story primarily in New York, a beacon of global business.
This is not to say that Ferris has created a wonder book, devoid of all error. At times the language is almost prosaic, too complicated and unnecessary to make this an easy read. Despite this it’s difficult to stop reading when you are so caught up in the strange mystery and dull ache which comes of having so many questions asked and no answers given. There is no cheat-sheet for this one, no skipping to the end and that can make it an exhausting task at times but I suspect that that is intentional. Lest we forget that nothing is ever easy as it might first appear.
The Unnamed is a must-read for anyone who has ever found themselves thinking of work before life. It encapsulates a world where it’s possible to be surrounded by people and yet ultimately alone, living a unique and seemingly incomparable existence. Laugh-a-minute it is not, but if fluff (see. Mills and Boon, Twilight, etc) makes you want to dry heave then this is the book for you.