Brandi Wells’ debut is one of those novels that could have gone either way for me. I spotted it on NetGalley and liked the blurb which reminded me a little of Jen Beagin’s Pretend I’m Dead. Our unnamed narrator clears up the mess made by the workers on the top floor of an office building, making little adjustments here and there, convinced she’s the unseen hand steering the company.
This way, I can make gentle corrections from afar and redirect the office workers without them knowing they’re being redirected.
Our narrator works the night shift, alone but for the chatty security guard who’s a constant source of irritation to her. She gives the occupants of her favourite floor nicknames reflecting the personalities she assigns them. She shifts papers she thinks need attention to the top of piles, leaves treats for Sad Intern who’s clearly struggling and a vanilla candle on the desk of Yarn Guy who she’s convinced makes exquisite pieces from the craft supplies in his desk drawer. Those who offend are likely to have a thin film of mayonnaise sprayed under their desk. The cleaner moves through her shift, fantasising about the relationships she would have with the workers if only they knew her and how she quietly shapes their working lives, checking everyone’s computer to see what they’ve been up to and tweaking emails here and there. When she discovers a phone hidden in the CEO’s desk, she sets off on a trail which will eventually lead her to a scandal explaining the company’s downturn.
All day, they’re creating a list of complaints that they store in their heads, ready to rattle off to anyone who will listen. It’s not just the way they communicate – it’s their entire mode of thinking, a tally of unhappiness.
There’s much to amuse in Wells’ novel but her story is also a sad one of loneliness and isolation. Our obsessive cleaner has very strong opinions, taking increasingly baroque revenge on those who offend her. While she sees herself quietly overseeing the smooth running of the company, the office workers, who think themselves superior to her, barely register her unless there’s something to complain about. Little do they know how much they owe her, but the cleaner plans to put them right. There’s a salutary message in this entertaining, if overlong, novel: we don’t give enough time or attention to those who quietly do the dirty work, cleaning up the mess we leave behind us.
Wildfire Books: London 9781472299543 336 pages Hardback (read via NetGalley)
That’s it from me until next week. H and I are off to the New Forest hoping for a few walks but planning what to do when it rains…