Anonymous Lawyer by Jeremy Blachman

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Anonymous Lawyer by Jeremy Blachman

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Claire Storey
Reviewed by Claire Storey
Summary: A hilarious look at life inside a major corporate law firm. Written in the form of a blog this page turner should amuse all but the most determined managing partners.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: February 2007
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099507154

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Anonymous Lawyer is a hiring partner at a large US law firm. His goal is simple. He must become chairman of his firm at all costs. He'll do whatever is necessary to achieve his dream and be damned anyone who steps into his path. But there's The Jerk, his rival, who will do whatever it takes to beat him to the job. And then there's Anonymous Wife who spends his money, Anonymous Son who benefits from a bit of father/son bonding, Anonymous Daughter who could do with a bit of liposuction (or maybe her developing an eating disorder might just solve the issue) and Anonymous Niece who must be convinced at all costs that the natural progression from law at Yale is a career in a large US corporate law firm. Oh yes, and then there's the small matter of the web-log that Anonymous Lawyer created to "write about life" as there's "no one I can talk openly to". Maybe not such a smart move if he ever gets found out... .

Written in the form of a blog, Blachman's Anonymous Lawyer - A Novel is a rather entertaining satirical debut that offers an exposé of the lives of US corporate lawyers and what really goes on behind closed doors.

Born of a real blog Anonymous Lawyer hangs together as a novel through the clever use of e-mails which intersperse themselves between blog entries leading us gently through what is actually a rather thin storyline but one which is strangely compelling. Despite its derivation Blachman is not a hiring partner, nay, not even a lawyer at a corporate firm. He did graduate law school and was a summer intern at such a firm however, and it is that brief sojourn that gives Blachman the fodder for this piece.

I must confess to being somewhat sceptical when I read the notes on the book on Amazon. As an erstwhile corporate lawyer myself I doubted whether it could succeed as a satirical piece. I imagined that it would be so clichéd as to be cringe worthy and doubted the ability of the legal profession to provide fodder for what is actually a rather good book. My scepticism is now firmly back in the cupboard and I let myself laugh out loud in far too many places - they say you should laugh at yourself before anyone else can... .

Characterisation other than of Anonymous Lawyer is rather thin and at times I felt that this let the piece down as a novel. As a blog one expects a certain one-dimensional view of life but translating that blog into a novel should, in my opinion, bring with it a bit of plumping up of the characters. Thankfully the style of writing means that many of the characters require very little enhancement. There's The Suck Up, The One With The Limp, The Short One and even The One Who Missed Her Kid's Funeral. They are all asides, scenery rather than main actors. However The Jerk, Anonymous Wife, The Musician, Associate X and Anonymous Niece could all do with a little more paint. They are paper characters who, although not really important in terms of the sardonic nature of the book, would nonetheless aid the transition from blog to novel. The email exchanges do aid the characterisation but I didn't feel they really went far enough.

What is refreshing about this offering (and perhaps surprising given its roots in the US) is the scant regard that is paid to political correctness. Anonymous Lawyer displays a whole array of prejudices that he is more than happy to voice. It is this candid pastiche that makes the book what it is - an irreverent look at a profession that could do well to laugh more at itself rather than being laughed at from outside. The observational skill of Blachman is certainly on a par with Ben Elton and he presents a similar, candid view.

The writing is excellent. It flows with an ease that is rather uncommon in blogs - one expects some lesser offerings but you don't really get them here. Conversational style is real and what there is of a story develops without requiring much effort on the reader's part. In many respects it is deeper than your average blog with an unspoken undercurrent which causes us to question our need to win at all costs.

If you liked The Devil Wears Prada and The Office and are currently enjoying US Hit Ugly Betty, chances are you'll like this. Its style is more Cambridge Footlights or Edinburgh Fringe than grown up, intelligent comedy but it packs a punch. In some respects it is not dissimilar to Jeremy Clarkson's The World According to Clarkson for its bluntness on matters normally brushed under the carpet. You don't have to be a lawyer to appreciate the humour, in fact, being a lawyer may make you wince a little more as you appreciate the farcical nature of some of the things we creatures take for granted. It's an easy read and a book that you can delve into in fits and starts if you so require although if you're like me you'll find yourself "just reading the next entry" and before you know it you'll be at the end. If you prefer a more challenging look at the corporate world you might prefer the likes of Michael Ridpath's Free to Trade which, although set in the financial world was borne out of a similar real-life-to-exaggerated-fiction situation but you'll be missing out.

As for me, this book was personal. Commenting on pregnant associates Anonymous Lawyer states:

If they want to have families along with careers, they're not going to make partner. And if you're not going to make partner, why bother?

... that might just be why I'm no longer an employed lawyer!

Thanks to the publisher, Vintage UK, for sending the book and a whole host of laughs.

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Magda said:

I had a look at the blog and although entertaining, I am not sure if I could enjoy the whole book: it seems bit too fixated on one hook (ie working to death). I ordered the Ridpath one from the library though.