|Cover by Jenny Haines|
I M Nemo
Fox Spirit Books, 25 August 2019
PB, 214pp, e
I'm grateful to the publisher for a free e-copy of Hire Idiots and to Emma @damppebles for inviting me to take part in the blogtour.
Hire Idiots opens with a murder on campus, but the (surely pseudonymous?) I M Nemo keeps the reader guessing as the story doesn't follow the routines of the Whodunnit but swerves off into campus politics and the new-liberlisation of education.
Kingsley College is a small US liberal arts college, about to suffer the full force of a modernising, business-friendly, profit-oriented management team. The situation is analysed, I'd say, with some bite by Prof Nemo and while the - never fully explored - murder and the - mysteriously unclear - occupation of the campus theatre by a protester/ gunman/ whoever function as two instances of the slightly strange, setting the scene for the beginning and end of the book, most of it is about that takeover and the struggle of a motley collection of academics to keep their ideals and academic freedoms.
Central to all this is Clarence Van Dyke, a specialist in the poetry of William Blake (one of whose couplets opens the book: Degrade first the arts, if you'd mankind degrade; Hire idiots to paint with cold light and hot shade). Van Dyke is British (cue various jokes about his connections with that fellow from Mary Poppins) but is comfortably settled on campus, bustling between lecture hall, pub and his apartment (the "campus cottage"). Over the course of several days we see his growing realisation of what is in store as a collection of management consultants, Vice Presidents for this-and-that, and fancy management types with glossy titles swarm in, speaking an alien language (benchmarking, assessing, synergy) and looking to make cuts.
Is Nemo using this society in miniature to stand for the wider world - as above, so below - with the methodology of the "disaster capitalists" dissected? Create a crisis. Apportion blame what it can't be settled. Move in and pillage. We see it here as the campus's support services are first contracted out, with the bell soon to toll, it seems, for faculty as well.
While most of the view point is Van Dyle's, we do see a little from the perspective of Happy Winter, the new Chief Academic Officer, a woman more comfortable with her charts and metrics than actually doing any teaching. I would have liked to see more of her point of view, to understand a little better what the motivations of the forces of barbarism are here, but I think that Nemo's heart and passion is really with Van Dyke and the upstart academics (and I sense that's rather the point of this book: it breathes anger and revenge and is dedicated 'For my colleagues who fight on' even if it also claims to be wholly a work of fiction).
That makes the story something of a polemic and if you're not sympathetic to Nemo's point of view you might not enjoy this book, so be warned. For my part, I rather got along with the anger and passion, which gives it a slightly different feel. While perhaps rough in one or two places (I think it effectively telescopes twenty or thirty years of creeping managerialism into one, nasty shock - could Van Dyke really have as been näive about modern trends as he seems here) it effectively draws in the sides and almost becomes a bit of an allegory for wider society and politics in the early 21st century.
An entertaining, fun and thought provoking read.
You can buy Hire Idiots from Amazon UK or Amazon US. Or visit the Fox Spirit Store at
For more information about damppebbles blog tours see www.damppebbles.com