The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, by George Saunders

An earlier work of Saunders’, The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil treads the familiar grounds of social commentary common to all his novels. With a particular abundance of the whimsical, strange and downright fantastical, this was certainly an interesting read.

Starting with the book’s title piece, the reader is immediately thrown into the crazed world of the author’s imagination. Following the tale of two nations, one stretching far and wide, the other so small only one inhabitant can stand in it at a time, we are introduced to a myriad of peculiar characters, from creatures riddled with multiple moustaches, to Phil himself, who’s brain ever threatens to slide off a conveyor on his head. Behind this mayhem of oddities however is a highly comical exaggeration of international relations, brought to bear by the most illogical of thoughts and misplaced patriotism.

The Bloomsbury edition I read also includes the In Persuasion Nation collection, which in fact makes up the majority of the book. In these, a truly bazaar, darkly comical series of stories are told, envisioning a bleak future under the umbrella theme of extreme advertising.

The collection bears an overriding message of societal shame, describing a dystopian exaggeration of our own reality, where advertising is already fast become an intrinsic part of our lives. From melancholy polar bears axed by eskimos for stealing cheetos, to advertising representatives forcing pedestrians to receive their daily intake of personalised viewing, the imaginings and implications of Saunder’s stories are humorous and darkly telling.

As with any short story collection, there were of course stronger inclusions than others, with the message being conveyed sometimes a little too raw when compared to his subtler, later works. Despite this however, the majority still lend well to Saunders’ poignant and entirely singular style of writing. This is a book I would certainly recommend to anyone looking for something a little different.

Length: 358 (Bloomsbury)
Overall Rating: 3 stars


Author: Jack Jakins

A recent graduate of history, now an aspiring writer and general cynicist

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