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Thirteen 5-star reviews for this one, so far!
After aspiring novelist Francis Scanlon is expelled from a prestigious graduate creative writing program, he is forced to become a spin doctor at the Prock Chocolate Corporation while he awaits the publication of his masterpiece.
But Francis’s expectations of easy money and literary glory are thwarted by a paranoid boss determined to run him out of the company, a charlatan writing coach, a snarky reporter, a sanctimonious public health crusader more Goebbels than Gandhi, an oily U.S. Senator with presidential aspirations, and a radical Muslim cleric with absolutely no sense of humor.
As the story unfolds in San Francisco, Washington, New York, Krakow, Mumbai, Jakarta, and a series of lush equatorial corporate jet refueling stations, Francis is swept up by market forces and transformed from pretentious literary cliché to reluctant executive to master practitioner of the black art of corporate power-politics. The story ends up, rather unexpectedly, as a surprisingly sweet romantic comedy as well.
Dougherty has brilliantly chosen an unlikely hero, Francis, to succeed in this world with its own rules and battles. Francis is an aspiring writer with a controversial pen and an equally loose mouth. Expelled from a prestigious writing programme for his inappropriateness he ends up working in PR for a Chocolate Company who is under fire for its unhealthy produce and for plenty of other reasons, which our hero is now paid to make disappear.
Thanks to Francis’s language skills he is needed to travel to Eastern Europe and gradually he rises through the ranks of the company hierarchy.
Spiked with great observations and one liners the book sparks with subtle and not-so-subtle comedy about the contradictions of modern life in the corporate world. Our hero has plenty of convictions but plays the system to continue his dream and hopefully one day become a published writer.
The book is highly intelligent in the way it plays off idealism against realism, contrasts themes of fascism and communism (Eastern Europe, Nazis’vs Mao), spoken and un-spoken cultural facts (visit to Indonesia) and on the way the book points out some truths and makes interesting points about the world at large and human nature.
By bringing another human factor in the form of romance within the confines of the Chocolate Corporation Dougherty keeps everything light hearted enough so as not to descend into purely political commentary. There is enough story to the plot and fleshed out body to appreciate the book on several levels.
The choice of the main character however was probably essential for me to enjoy the book as much as I did. His distant, slightly corruptible yet honest and still idealistic attitude has made this a well rounded piece of work that was hugely satisfying, funny and warming.
A great reading experience.