I read this novel back to back with Amy Jenkins' 'Honeymoon'. From the covers, you'd have thought that these were two very similar novels. Girl dreams of boy, girl meets boy, like vinyl which has got stuck into the rut, rather than the groove. It's rather refreshing then, to only discover that the Temp does have a boyfriend several pages into the novel, and that she refuses to wax lyrical about him, whatever that means. She certainly doesn't spend a great deal of time complaining about him either. A boyfriend is not the full focus of her dreams and aspirations. The Temp's too busy trying to find herself to go doey-eyed at the nearest set of biceps.
The Temp has been to university, and like her friends, she has been fired up to take over the world, to edit the Guardian at the very least. Trouble is, she's finding it hard enough to get anyone to hire her, let alone fire her. So, she takes work as a temp, to pay for the necessities of life, like her graduate boyfriend who's on the dole. In sharing a London flat with about five other ex student friends, of various occupations, this novel comes very close to being a clone of 'This Life', far more than 'Honeymoon' ever does. However, the temp would soon spot that the heroine of Amy Jenkins' novel is the more likely candidate for Nanette Newman's role in a remake of 'The Stepford Wives'. Although Mackesy's and Jenkins' novels are of similar page length, more print is evident on the pages of 'The Temp'. This immediately signifies that you're in for a far weightier read with Mackesy than Jenkins. There is a point in the novel where the temp compares her current life with her role models in modern commuter fiction, and finds little resemblance.
However, if we have a look at the bare bones, there are all the ingredients you need for a brainless read: living in London with a lot of wacky friends, one of whom has worked in the glamorous world of the media, adventures in a field in Glastonbury... Added to this is the novel's open assertion that it started life as a weekly column, and you think of a mongrel whose provenance is both 'This Life' and 'Bridget Jones'. The Temp manages to surpass such breeding though, and emerges with a true character of its own. We are immediately immersed into the world of business, and the various companies that the temp works for. There's a lot of solid detail here, but it's always compulsive reading and you admire Mackesy's observations. As the novel itself says, Mackesy has worked as a temp, and it shows, and all of us who have been deployed as temps in whatever field can identify with the narrator. The need for a wishy-washy romance to cover up a lack of research is absent here. As for wacky friends, well, the temp's flatmates are too real to need quirky eccentricities. You care about the temp's friends a great deal, you share in their highs and their very very lows. This novel is not typical commuter fare as bad things still happen in this world.
At times, it seems difficult to discern what the temp herself is feeling, so immersed is she in the world of word, practically anonymous to her co-workers. It's probably no coincidence that it takes you an immensely long time to discover what her name is, which reflects her experiences at work. The device that Mackesy uses most effectively is to make the narrator a temp, a nobody - she goes unnoticed, but sees everything. However, even a fly on the wall needs to know where to look. For the temp is not an omniscient narrator - she's in for some fairly unpleasant surprises... Serena Mackesy has presented us with a very readable, but surprisingly gritty, first novel.
AuthorTrek Rating: 9/10.
Kevin Patrick Mahoney