That sounds like a pretty straightforward story, but there is nothing simple and easy about this book. To start with, there are seven first person narrators. The story is mainly told from George's point of view, but the switching around of narrators can get confusing. Each chapter title includes the narrator's name, but if you skip chapter titles, like I sometimes do, it can take a while to figure out who is talking. Not that I am complaining. I enjoy stories told from the point of view of several characters.
All of this sounds like I did not like the book and that is far from the truth. The characters are not fully fleshed out but the book is paced nicely. Any one who has been in the working world and felt like they have lost control of their own life and time or anyone who has dealt with meaningless bureaucracies can empathize with this story. This was a complex, dark novel and the symbolism of the clock worked well.
A personal plus for me was the setting in the publishing world. This story is about a big business and how its workers are subjugated. I worked in a smaller, family run business. But still, publishing is publishing; we did produce serial publications and we were in competition with other publishers.
One runs like a mouse up the old, slow pendulum of the big clock, time, scurries around and across its huge hands, strays inside through the intricate wheels and balances and springs of the inner mechanism, searching among the cobwebbed mazes of this machine with all its false exits and dangerous blind alleys and steep runways, natural traps and artificial baits, hunting for the true opening and the real prize.
Then the clock strikes one and it is time to go, to run down the pendulum, to become again a prisoner making once more the same escape.
For of course the clock that measures out the seasons, all gain and loss, the air Georgia breathes, Georgette's strength, the figures shivering on the dials of my own inner instrument board, this gigantic watch that fixes order and establishes the pattern for chaos itself, it has never changed, it will never change, or be changed.The book was adapted into a film also titled The Big Clock, directed by John Farrow, and starring Ray Milland as George, Maureen O'Sullivan as his wife, and Charles Laughton as Janoth. We watched the film in early 2014, and it was over two years before I read the book. I had plenty of time to forget the intricacies of the story, although I remembered the basic plot and the clock imagery. When we watched the film again after I read the book, I was surprised by the differences between the two.
The film contains less sexuality than the book. I assume this is because of the mores of that time. George does not have an affair with Janoth's girlfriend in the movie, he just spends an ill-fated night on the town with her because he is exasperated at his boss and he is drinking too much. The only real flaws he has in the movie is heavy drinking and poor judgement. George is not a very likable character, in the movie or the book, but it is more obvious in the movie.
Thus the novel is much darker, more serious, and realistic; the movie is more fun and less confusing. The movie conveys the symbolism of the clock very well but doesn't really give us a hint why George feels like he is on a treadmill. Even though it is obvious (fairly early) that he has a demanding and unscrupulous boss, his job seems pretty good to me. I liked the book better but the film is great too.
There is a more recent film adaptation, No Way Out, with Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman. That film is a very loose adaptation. I have not seen it, but it has been recommended, and I do want to try it.
See thoughts on both the book and the film at Tipping My Fedora, and posts on the film at Riding the High Country and at LILEKS.COM.
Publisher: New York Review Books, 2006 (orig. pub. 1946)
Length: 175 pages
Format: Trade paperback
Source: I purchased my copy.