When a staff member of HMV went rogue and apparently live tweeted a series of contentious posts from inside the struggling retailer’s head office, it was a glorious reminder of the power of electronic communication and how it can be used and misused. We forget that we’ve lived in an age of social media and email for a while now so yesterday’s HMV story seemed particularly pertinent as I read ‘ e’ by Matt Beaumont.
Published over a decade ago, it was one of the first (if not THE first) novels to be written entirely in emails. Following a few months in the life of a ghastly London ad agency called Miller Shanks, the main thrust of the plot involves the company attempting to win a lucrative new contract for Coca-Cola. What’s most important though is the achingly accurate dissection of office politics and the bitching, back-stabbing and devious games that people play to inch further up the corporate ladder. Early on in the book, a sacked secretary makes good use of the ‘all employee’ email address to air some unwelcome home truths about what went on at the office party before she’s marched out of the building. Rule 1 of office politics: revoke their access BEFORE you fire them.
What’s most astonishing about ‘e’ is not just how remarkably clever it is, not just how wonderfully plotted and paced it is despite the unusual narrative structure, not just how you’ll identify and recognise just about every type of office character in the story even if you’ve never set foot in an ad agency and not just how devastatingly funny the book is, but just how fresh it still feels even 13 years after it first was published. It just goes to show that the technology can change, but we’re still going to mess up how we use it!