Summary and book reviews of Mr. Phillips by John Lanchester

Mr. Phillips

by John Lanchester

Mr. Phillips
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2000, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2001, 304 pages

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Book Summary

The story of one day in the life of a decent man who only forty-eight hours before knew exactly who and what he was and who on this day wonders who and what he can become.

Mr Phillips wakes on the morning of July 31 in his modest, nearly mortgage-free home, in the bed he has contentedly shared with his wife of thirty years (though to be honest, at night he lies beside her and dreams of other women), ready to face another ordinary day. Except that for Mr Phillips, it is not an ordinary day, for on Friday, July 28, he was summarily sacked. Nonetheless, he rises at his usual hour and prepares himself as he has done his entire working life for the office he no longer has.

This is the story of one day in the life of a decent man who only forty-eight hours before knew exactly who and what he was--husband and father, accountant, home-owner, son--and who on this day wonders who and what he can become.

With his eye for the telling detail, his ear for the commonplaces of speech that make us who we are, his sympathy for the very ordinariness that sets us each apart, John Lanchester has created a jewel of a novel: From common clay, he has given us gold.

He has been called "a writer whose gifts border on the demonic" (Michael Upchurch, Chicago Tribune), and his first novel, The Debt to Pleasure, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, winner of the Whitbred Best First Novel Award, a New York Times Notable Book, and a national bestseller.

Chapter One

At night, Mr Phillips lies beside his wife and dreams about other women.

Not all of the dreams are about sex. Not all the women are real. There are dreams in which composite girls, no one he knows, look on while Mr Phillips goes about his dream-business of worrying about things, or looking for things, or feeling obscurely guilty about things. There is a dream he has been having since he was ten years old, in which he saves a whole group of strange women from certain disaster by diverting a runaway train or safely landing an aeroplane or encouraging them to hang on to the roof fittings on a tilting ship until just the right moment. He has even had a couple of dreams which involve him doing something vague but heroic in relation to the Channel Tunnel.

In the aftermath of these feats he is becomingly casual, almost dismissive. To camera crews and the world's press he explains that it is no big deal; but the women in the dream know that that isn't true.

Mr Phillips...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. For much of the novel, the author refers to his protagonist as "Mr. Phillips" as opposed to his first name. What does he accomplish by doing so? What is the significance of Lanchester’s choice of Victor as Mr. Phillips’ first name considering the events that befall the character?

  2. How would you describe the depiction of women in Mr. Phillips? What is your opinion of Mrs. Phillips and Clarissa Colingford? To what extent do you feel that this opinion is influenced by the fact that these women are described through the voice of Mr. Phillips instead of an impartial narrator?

  3. In some sense, Mr. Phillips is a voyeur—watching the women playing tennis in the park, staring at people in their cars, viewing the adult film. In what ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Chicago Tribune - Michael Upchurch

A writer whose gifts border on the demonic.

New York Times - Richard Bernstein

Mr. Lanchester is a commanding writer.

USA Today

His writing has the clarity and zing of fine cut glass.

Chicago Tribune - Michael Upchurch

A writer whose gifts border on the demonic.

New York Times - Richard Bernstein

Mr. Lanchester is a commanding writer.

USA Today

His writing has the clarity and zing of fine cut glass.

London Review of Books - Adam Phillips

[E]xceptionally funny and often astoundingly intelligent.

Publishers Weekly

... this stylishly written novel makes it clear that Lanchester is more than a one-hit wonder.

Publishers Weekly

... this stylishly written novel makes it clear that Lanchester is more than a one-hit wonder.

Reader Reviews

"Old fella"

Fun but not always funny
A wander through London the first day of your life after being made redundant is an opportunity to do whatever takes your fancy, or stirs your interest. Mr Phillips has some unexpected fun and his recollections and reflections are often droll, even ...   Read More

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