Zero Hours – Neil Campbell

Zero Hours is Neil Campbell’s second novel, the sequel to 2016’s Sky Hooks (which I haven’t read, though the new book mostly stands alone). As its title suggests, this is a novel about work:

Try doing some of this zero hours shit. If you’re off sick then drag your arse in because you won’t be getting sick pay, you’ve got no rights whatsoever. Day after day you phone in asking for work. Day after day you sign in at the desk, just another face from the agency. On the phone, they used to call you for work. Now you have to call them. Time after time it’s engaged.

Campbell’s narrator is a young working-class man from Manchester. Throughout the novel he works a number of zero hours jobs, first at a mail-sorting depot, later at a number of libraries. There is nearly always something to dishearten our man, be it his duties, colleagues, managers, or just the constant uncertainty that comes with this kind of employment. Besides work, the narrator has a number of unsuccessful attempts at relationships, and sees the face of his city change, losing its character to gentrification. There’s a stop-start feel to reading the novel itself: as with zero hours work, the present moment is all, and even the immediate future uncertain.

Alongside his ‘day job’, the protagonist is a writer, active in the local literary scene and with a number of books published. This comes across as the glue holding the man’s life together, a source of continuity in contrast to pretty much everything else happening in his world. Sometimes reading Zero Hours feels like eavesdropping; at other times, it’s like being confided in. It makes one hope that, by novel’s end, there will be some light on the horizon.

Book details

Zero Hours (2018) by Neil Campbell, Salt Publishing, 138 pages, paperback (source: review copy).

Read my review of Neil Campbell’s chapbook ‘Jackdaws’ (Nightjar Press) here.

4 Comments

  1. It sounds rather semi-autobiographical, is it? I find myself wondering if it’s better as a novel rather than article, though novels can bring things to life of course in a way articles can’t.

    They did him proud with the cover.

    • I think it must be at least semi-autobiographical. One thing I didn’t mention in the review (because I wasn’t sure what to say about it) is that the protagonist is explicitly a version of Neil Campbell (he refers to his books being shelved between Calvino and Carter, for example, and even names one of Campbell’s collections).

      I did find myself asking how well it worked as a novel, but in the end I think it does hang together thematically and has that ‘feel’ of fiction rather than non-fiction. It would be interesting to see how it compares to Sky Hooks.

  2. For some reason, the description made me think of Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying. It’s good see a novel tackling issues like this, anyway

    • Haven’t read the Orwell myself but, having looked it up, I think it might make an interesting comparison. Agreed too that we could do with more fiction on this kind of subject.

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