Lanyards by Neil Campbell
Lanyards is the third novel in Neil Campbell's Manchester Trilogy, about an aspiring author whose football career was curtailed by injury before it really started, and who has since been drifting through a series of menial jobs while trying to focus on his creative writing. In Lanyards, the narrator loses patience with warehouse work and signs up with an agency that finds him work in a call centre and as a temporary learning support worker in schools and colleagues. With each new placement comes a new lanyard, a compulsory badge of imposed identity that reduces the worker to nothing more than the job they do. Meanwhile, however, the narrator falls in love with Cho, who has similar artistic ambitions, and relates his conversations with his friends, who like him are mostly struggling with poverty, writing or both.
There isn't a plot to speak of. Lanyards is a more meditative novel, taking the form of the author's thoughts on writing, work, poverty and Manchester itself - Manchester is as much of a character in this book as the people who inhabit it. The Manchester Arena bombing takes place during the period covered in the novel, as does the court case surrounding the abuse of young boys by local football coaches, one of whom the narrator and a friend knew back when they were promising players. It's hard to say what impression the portrayal of the city would make on someone who isn't already familiar with it, but having lived in Manchester for 18 years I found the descriptions and details made the narrative feel immediate and real.
Lanyards is sometimes funny, sometimes furious, sometimes bleak. It's full of small, disheartening failures and stories of trying to retain a sense of self while slogging through days in jobs that mean nothing. It doesn't, however, lack hope. The narrator's relationship with Cho, for example, is outlined with a touching sincerity. The non-existent plot does make it feel a little disjointed, which I occasionally found frustrating, but in fairness this reflects the stop-start, short-term nature of the narrator's employment throughout the novel and so seems fitting.