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Book Review: ‘Hell Has Harbour Views’ by Richard Beasley April 26, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Book Reviews, Reviews.
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I’m still trying to power through my lists of books, especially the list that will supposedly assist me in writing my novel.  Naturally, given my novel will revolve around an office, one of the books on that list is Richard Beasley’s Hell Has Harbour Views.  It’s a book that a lot of people in Australia (especially in legal circles) have heard of, but not nearly as many have read.  It was also made into a TV movie starring Matt Day and Lisa McCune.

In a nutshell, Hell Has Harbour Views tells the story of Hugh Walker, a 30-something associate at Rottman Maughan and Nash, described as the ‘greatest law firm in the universe’.  Of course, it’s a horrible firm that acts for large corporations and tramples underdogs, with grotesque partners, billing fraud, sex scandals and dick vibes all around.  Hugh despises the place and the people, but he realizes he is slowly becoming one of them.  Later, he finds himself caught in the middle of a partner feud, and must decide if he should continue selling his soul or put an end to the suffering once and for all.

If that sounds like a story you might have heard of before, that’s because it is.  Hell Has Harbour Views is actually a very formulaic coming-of-age story where the protagonist rises to great heights only to undergo a character transformation and realise that the things he thought he wanted weren’t the things he wanted all along.

To be honest, I was disappointed.  Hell Has Harbour Views was described on the front cover by John Birmingham (author of the awesome He Died with a Felafel in His Hand, which I only just read recently) as ‘The funniest most utterably savage lawyer joke ever!’, and was described on the back cover as a ‘biting, witty, very funny tale’.

Given those lofty expectations, I was surprised when I didn’t find the book very funny at all.  Sure, there were a few clever references and lines here and there that brought out a smile, but never a laugh or even a chuckle.  It felt more like a straight-up observation of big-firm culture with a mild comedic slant, as opposed to the other way around.  It was a satire that didn’t really feel like one.

I think the biggest problems I had with the book were that it took itself too seriously and the overly moralistic tone.  It couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a farcical comedy or a serious story about morality and the pitfalls of working in a large law firm.  I think it did a much better job of being the latter.

Hugh was this guy that thought being a lawyer would be a cross between To Kill a Mocking Bird and The Practice.  His mother was a legal aid lawyer that earned peanuts but at least she was helping people.  He once worked at a small firm that helped underdogs rather than screw them over, but went over to the dark side for the money and the glamorous lifestyle from working at ‘Rotten Mean and Nasty’ (which is how he describes the firm).  While Hugh’s torn emotions undoubtedly reflect what thousands of lawyers around the globe must feel, when you put it in a book that’s supposed to be a comedy it just comes across as a little contrived.

2 out of 5

PS: Could this less than favourable review stem from the fact that, being a former lawyer, I don’t find the characters or what they get up to particularly shocking (and hence funny)?  Perhaps.  Probably.  The book’s success suggests that most people don’t share my views.  In any case, Richard Beasley ought to be commended for at least completing a project as difficult as this one, which is more than I can say for myself.

Can we ever really ‘enjoy’ our jobs? June 2, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in On Writing, Social/Political Commentary.
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This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot as I approach the halfway mark of my writing course.  I have been really enjoying everything as a student, reading and writing, learning from those who are in the same boat and from those who have already succeeded to varying degrees.  But when it comes time to do this for a living, will I be able to enjoy it as much?

The answer I’ve always had in my mind has been a resounding “YES”, or else I would not have gone down this path in the first place.  But like everyone else when they think about a career change or just a change of scenery, I do have my doubts.  We always expect the grass to be greener on the other side, but is it, really?  Is it actually, genuinely “good”, or just, relatively speaking, “better”?

There is hardly a single person I have spoken to in recent months that is not either: (a) complaining about their job; (b) looking for a new job; (c) looking for a new career; (d) looking to go overseas; (e) about to start a new job; or (f) thinking about resigning from their current job.

Here are some case studies featuring some friends of mine:

(Click on ‘more…’ to continue)

(more…)

The Trouble With Being An Ex-Lawyer April 26, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Novel, On Writing, Study.
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4 comments

You don't need double talk, you need Bob Loblaw!

I thought I had left my legal career behind for good, but apparently not so.

The trouble with people knowing that you once practised law is that they think you love giving legal advice and drafting legal documents for free in your spare time.  Not that I mind helping people — it’s just that I don’t feel like doing anything related to law anymore…why else would I have retreated from the profession like a frightened turtle?

But alas, I am still technically qualified to dish out legal advice until the end of this financial year.  Accordingly, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately reviewing contracts and drafting letters as favours for friends and family friends.  And the thing is, some people tend to think that if you are a lawyer, you know everything about the law.  Not the case.  Even when I was practising I seldom had any idea what I was doing right off the bat.  There’s almost always a lot of research and reading involved, and when all else fails, ask the firm expert, of which there is always one (why do you think lawyers cost so damn much to hire?)

There are also a couple of other complications.  First, when you do stuff for a friend (and especially a family friend), the stakes are a lot higher.  You can’t afford to stuff up, and the consequences of stuffing up are far worse (from a mental and emotional standpoint) than when they happen at work.  You can always look for a new job, but how can you look your parents in the eyes when you have fucked up the lives of their friends?  Second (and this is related), you don’t have a boss/supervisor to review your work and fix it up.  Whatever you do, that’s it.

So it’s strange but it’s true — I am far more careful and meticulous when doing legal stuff for people who don’t pay me.  And I take a hell of a lot longer.

I really should be working on my numerous assessments, and if not, my other writing projects (ie two novels).  And if not that, I should be doing other things to get my writing out there, such as entering competitions and sending works to publications to get credits under my belt.  But unfortunately, I’m still haunted by the career I tried to leave behind.

As Jack Bauer would say, “Dammit!”

Update: Farewell to the Law… February 20, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, On Writing, Study.
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6 comments

(Big exhale…)

On Friday, 19th of the February 2010, I finally closed the book on my career in law.

I guess it was a long time coming, but it was also one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made.  I’ve studied law for 6 years (including a Masters).  I’ve been employed in it for 4.  I’ve worked with some of the most brilliant minds in this country (and some of the most retarded).  I’ve made friends I hope will still be a part of my life (and run away from some of the most psychotic).  Whichever way I look at it, the last 10 years of my life has been a wild (albeit insanely stressful and dry) time.

However, I suppose I was never really meant to be a lawyer.  I never had a passion for the law that some of my fellow lawyers did.  I never felt the urge to be the alpha dog, to climb the ladder towards partnership and lucrative financial rewards.  I just wanted to protect my neck in this sometimes cut-throat business.

Being an overachiever in law at university was the worst thing that could have happened to me.  People automatically assumed I read cases, legislation and legal articles in my spare time (this actually happened on countless occasions).  People would say, “Remember that case about [blah blah blah]?” and I would pretend to be trying to recall the case until they thought of the answer themselves (this happened at least 10 times, and it may have even been the same case).  There were occasions when I was told I did a great job when I didn’t even really know what I did or what was doing!  I find it amazing that I could be ‘highly regarded’ when I consistently felt like a complete moron.

People ask me why, if I’m so unsuited for the law, I ended up in it in the first place.  The only thing I can say is that it was probably a combination of being totally clueless, not knowing what I wanted to do, expectations, following friends, and pride.  That said, I don’t regret it (much).  I’ve learned a lot, experienced a lot, and made a lot of great friends.  I’d probably do it all over again.

But alas, I’m moving on.  I won’t miss the long hours.  I certainly won’t miss the stress (or the rapid ageing – I’ve been told I looked like a 14-year-old when I joined my old firm in 2005; no one mistakes me for a 19-year-old now).

This blog will also start to undergo some changes shortly.  I still have a few Taiwan food posts remaining which I plan to crunch out soon, but after that, I intend to shift the focus back to writing – following my writing adventures, putting up helpful tips, resources and links – all that crap.  Of course, with more time on my hands, I’ll still be reviewing films and books and dabble in other stuff, but hopefully the focus can be on writing.  Hopefully…

Protected: New book idea! December 19, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Novel, On Writing.
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