Book review: Terms & Conditions

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Extensive footnotes make this hard to follow, as Nicky Pellegrino discovers.

Robert Glancy's debut novel 'Terms & Conditions' is full of quirky annotations.
Robert Glancy's debut novel 'Terms & Conditions' is full of quirky annotations.

If ever a book was likely to boost optometrists' profits it's Terms & Conditions by Robert Glancy (Bloomsbury). This is a novel about the small print and contains a lot of it - some of it very, very small indeed.

Frank Shaw, our hero, is a lawyer who specialises in writing the terms and conditions in contracts, the clauses and caveats that barely anyone bothers to read before they sign their life away.

The tale begins as he gains consciousness after a serious car accident, his spleen removed and his memory shot. Frank doesn't remember himself, never mind his wife or brother.

Gradually he begins to piece together the clues and work out who he used to be. It turns out the car crash is the least of his worries.

Before the accident, Frank had what people keep calling "a little episode" because he was tired and stressed. But he can't work out what that episode involved and, more importantly, what might have caused it.

Could it have been that his wife Alice was a cow who humiliated him publicly? Or was it perhaps that his brother Oscar, the head of the family business, is entirely without ethics?

As he discovers more about the life he had before the accident, Frank also works out more about life in general.

Many of his personal revelations are disheartening. He sees he has spent years devoting himself to making the world a worse place. And so he begins to commit small acts of rebellion.

Terms & Conditions is quirky and darkly humorous, a fun read that has its flaws.

Occasionally it gets a bit preachy and some of author Glancy's voice seeps into the character of Frank. And there's nothing terribly believable about wife Alice's transformation into a hard-nosed human resources executive. But the thing I found trickiest was its biggest gimmick.

This is the most richly annotated piece of fiction I've come across. At one point there are annotations for the annotations. I do get that this ties in with Frank's job but it makes for a jerky and disorienting reading experience. Do you flick back and forth between the text and the annotations in their ever-shrinking font-sizes? Do you finish the whole page and deal with them at the end?

You get used to it, sort of. It's like when you watch a subtitled foreign film and stop noticing the effort to read after a while. And perhaps this collage of annotations, emails and quizzes is a format that's the natural result of the scrappiness of social media.

Personally, I didn't entirely get on with it but I suppose other people might.

The other thing you need to know about Terms & Conditions is that its Zambian-born author Glancy was, until recently, working in PR in Auckland.

Following an international bidding war for rights to this debut novel, he was paid a six-figure sum by UK publisher Bloomsbury and has now packed in his job and is relocating to France to work on his second book.

Terms & Conditions will appeal to lovers of last year's offbeat comic hit The Rosie Project. It's also about a man finding himself; a mid-life-crisis story that is witty, perceptive and wise. Just make sure your reading glasses' prescription is up to date before embarking on it.

- Herald on Sunday

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