£9.99, Parthian 27 2pp
Barthes writes in ‘Death of the Author’, ‘As soon as a fact is narrated… disconnection occurs, the voice loses its origin, the author enters into his own death, writing begins.’ It is important to remember this when reading Half Plus Seven.
Bill McDare works in PR. Dan Tyte works in PR. Bill McDare is the fictional narrator of Tyte’s début novel. Half Plus Seven must therefore, in some way, be related to Tyte’s experience in the industry. As such, it is hard to divorce the strapping young man in the book jacket photo from the self-absorbed spin doctor in its pages. And for the first half of the novel, it is hard to like Dan Tyte.
Bill McDare, you see, is an utterly unlikeable narrator, a Nathan Barley type with no immediate redeeming features. He is not a murderer, nor even a criminal, but his coke-snorting woman-chasing ways just seem rude.
Not only that, but his sentences are short. Really short. It’s a bit annoying. At times. Until you get the joke.
It’s a really clever trick Tyte deploys. It’s not the work of a Hemingway disciple, nor that of a severe minimalist. It’s not even Tyte’s prose. These are the first-person thoughts of PR man Bill McDare. And McDare is working in strap-lines, in slogans, in bullet-points: the language of PR. Going forward, he even gives us a glossary of the blue-sky thinking newspeak that permeates the PR world. While there’s no obvious depth to the writing, to the character, that’s the point. This is sharp, spiky satire.
Tyte uses modern epistolary techniques well, dropping in emails, a Facebook profile and a more traditional letter from the Health Clinic. These provide small but welcome breaks from the bombardment of McDare’s narration, which at times can be quite claustrophobic in the opening parts of the novel. Contemporary digital culture is certainly a theme in this novel, the first in which I have read a character using ‘WTF’ within his internal dialogue.
Ultimately, it’s a redemption tale. The novel really changes tone halfway through, when on one of many work-avoidance / seize-the-day jaunts, McDare pays a rather serendipitous visit to ‘midtown’s most economically priced’ psychic, Sister Gina. The advice offered is little more than a disposable motivational poster slogan, but to this PR man, it’s ‘my kind of bullshit’.
McDare, as befitting a person in his trade, attempts to rebrand himself, and his relationships with his friends and family. Tyte’s work here is clever and genuinely funny – even the minor office workers get their turn to shine as he works his / McDare’s spin and marketing know-how to change them from ciphers to developed characters.
Half Plus Seven could easily be mistaken for a Nick Hornby novel, but a Hornby novel with a touch more Zeitgeist and a slightly sinister, grimy underbelly. Some elements are a little too Hornby-esque, such as the chapters in which McDare walks through his list of ex-girlfriends, which even leads to a very High Fidelity dénouement. But it’s fair to say that Tyte’s work is not a facsimile of Hornby, it’s got his own twist of acerbic humour throughout each segment.
Tyte’s novel is a masculine and propulsive romantic comedy, told in a strikingly bold and honest manner. With its contemporary setting and no-nonsense story-telling, and despite the rather rough and jarring start, Half Plus Seven is a funny and warm-hearted novel, well-conceived and well-executed. One hopes that in this case, Barthes is right: on the basis of this novel Dan Tyte has either been a very dislikable young man at some point, or he is an author with a great deal of promise.