In A Serious Business, Roderick Hart takes us on a privileged tour of the inner life of the retail world – specifically behind the scenes at Mowatts, a venerable family firm. If you have ever worked in this world you will find yourself, with delighted and sometimes groaning recognition, in familiar company. Even your average shopper will recognise most of the characters in this cast. A Serious Business it is – a perfectly chosen title for this subject.
For me the appeal of the book lay in the ordinariness and variety of the characters, people not only from the varied ranks that we see daily: behind a shop counter, in the security guard’s uniform, fixing the window display, serving in the café; but also those we don’t: the now-obligatory IT department, the top-floor management, the basement maintenance staff. All these people are getting on with their work, but always in the light of the events and concerns in their personal lives.
Behind this complex tapestry is a simpler coming of age story, we watch the most self-effacing and likeable of the characters slowly coming, or perhaps more accurately being dug, out of his shell. Meanwhile the single-minded artist leaves mayhem in his wake, the stay-at-home son fails to comprehend that the world does not run for his convenience and the firm’s remaining family members try to steer the ship through the choppy waters of modern big business.
As with Roderick Hart’s Time to Talk, there are many funny and charming byways to both characters and events. Encountering racoons in the stream of consciousness of our hero as he is dropping off had me chuckling, coming across a Precognition Officer for the first time in my life, and stopping short at ‘boilings’ (presumably boiled sweets to a Southerner like me), stick in my mind.
I finished the book with a smile on my face.