The Fat of Fed Beasts by Guy Ware

The Fat of Fed Beasts opens in an office. A seemingly inauspicious start but characteristic of Ware’s love for the bizarre within the mundane because although it seems like a typical office filled with red tape, disillusioned workers and colleagues who use it as a place for browsing the internet and drinking coffee, this office is special: this is the Office of Assessment where workers write reports on our souls, recommending where the recently deceased should spend their afterlife.

The comic and theological ramifications of this idea feel unending. Not only might our fate be decided by a bored salaryman keen to clear his desk, there is the terrifying possibility that the Office of Assessment could be infiltrated and corrupted… Especially after a colleague witnesses a bank robbery in which one old man refuses to comply with the robbers’ requests to lie on the floor even after he is shot at. Who is this old man? What does he have to do with the Office of Assessment?

The title of the novel comes from Isaiah and is God’s rejection of sacrifice as a means of excusing rather than renouncing sin. Instead of following the letter of God’s law, his people should change their hearts. Is this a reflection upon how humans live their life, or on the Office and how it judges life, or both?

And this is the beauty and consternation of Ware’s prose and narrative. What is happening and the meaning we ascribe to it is constantly shifting. It is hard not to think of Beckett and Kafka as well as a few other famous literary giants because the machine of the civilized world is pitted against the individual and the individual’s concerns.

The novel is told through different characters’ first person perspectives in which each character is also grappling with the agonies of daily living – their relationships and livelihoods. This enhances the conflation of fate with the transitory, of grand over-arching principle with the miniscule desires of the flesh.

The Fat of Fed Beasts is funny and clever because the sublime contemplation of the soul is rendered petty and banal, is given a hard dose of realism. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable, if at times bamboozling, read. I’m already looking forward to what Guy Ware will publish next.

Next week I’m reading Her by Harriet Lane.