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Book #3: A History of Capitalism According to the Jubilee Line by John O'Farrell



Number of pages: 108

This is Jubilee Line information. We would like to apologise for the inconvenience while we are being held in the tunnel. This is due to a crisis in capitalism.

The first line of John O'Farrell's novella demonstrates the absurdity that runs throughout it, as it portrays a dream sequence in which people find themselves stuck on an underground train in a tunnel, in a dystopic version of London where their transport system has gone bankrupt. The book's cover alone was enough to make me keen to read this, with its picture of Karl Marx and Margaret Thatcher, who people with vastly different political ideologies, sitting side-by-side on a train.

The book's events are narrated by the dreamer, who I presume is O'Farrell himself. There is an immediate social commentary on what public transport is like in Britain, with the surprise that people are talking to eachother, which (as the narrator observes) only happens if something is going wrong. It soon becomes apparent that there are a lot of differences in political opinion, with a right-wing passenger getting into a lengthy debate with a left-wing passenger while the others look on. Most of the debating ends up as a discussion of how the tube was constructed; in this case, it is all about London's Jubilee Line, "so called because its opening had missed the Queen's Silver Jubilee by two whole years", with a lot of commentary and critique about how its construction, including a few wry observations (Neasden has the only level crossing on the tube system - "And still it struggles to attract the tourists").

Through a series of increasingly bizarre announcements, it becomes apparent that the tunnel is starting to flood due to bad construction work, and the passengers are told to get off the train and walk to safety; the two characters from the left and right wings both suggest going in opposite directions, both believing they will be walking towards the safer part of the underground line that is not flooding.

The whole story has a wry, satirical tone as it looks at the different political views that are expressed by its characters, and at times becomes incredibly absurd; for example, at one point in the narrative, Noam Chomsky and Roger Scruton appear seemingly from nowhere and end up in a fist fight. The whole thing does start getting a bit overly political, and John O'Farrell describes himself as quite left wing, and it shows from some moments near the end that almost feel like he is getting up on his soapbox.

Overall, this was an unusual story; partially it forms a bizarre story set on the underground, but it is also a political commentary and also an excuse for O'Farrell to demonstrate his very detailed knowledge of London's underground network. I mostly found this book enjoyable though, despite it feeling like a surreal and politically-charged version of another book I recently read, William Leith's A Northern Line Minute. At its best I found this book to be hilarious and very entertaining, despite how scathing and cynical it became at times.

Next book: Know and Tell the Gospel (John Chapman)
Tags: book review, british, dreaming, humor, politics, satire, suspense
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