Town planning and local government are synonymous with bureaucratic negativity but in the sepia tinted goals of these much derided institutions we uncover an unlikely antidote to the social media driven generation whose morals have become warped by the desire for quick fixes with little substance, unless they are stimulants of the narcotic variety.
Wheatley Park educated Tom Campbell develops a contemporary set of characters against this potentially uninspiring backdrop but his passion and understanding for the extremes of London life illuminates the narrative.
James is the eponymous planner, short of self-esteem and surrounded by materialistic peers who are beginning to have diminishing appeal for an individual who has little hope and limited desire to develop a private sector mentality. That is until the manipulative Felix enters his life who identifies in James’s vulnerability a prime candidate for his own selfish social experiment.
Felix is a brand planner but his approach to forward thinking is focussed on unsubstantiated assumptions of consumer tastes rather than the community needs underpinning the built environment. In their chosen professions though we see a striking metaphor for the contrasting values held by the dynamic dream maker battling the ideals of the man with a (local) plan.
London is the perfect setting for this idealistic clash and as the experiment plays out Canary Wharf, the physical manifestation of capitalism, provides the symbolic setting for the ultimate betrayal as James’s cloistered existence is preyed upon by unprincipled and immoral developers who view bricks and mortar as their tangible life-blood and the social and cultural rights of the individual as disposable assets whose value can not be quantified on a balance sheet.
In amongst this contest for the moral and economic high ground there is a diverse supporting cast of characters ranging from Harriet, the baby faced assassin of social excess through to Simon, the unctuous purveyor of smooth deregulated capitalism
Ultimately though it’s Rachel, James’s down-to-earth work colleague, who is the moral heartbeat of the book. In his search to find his true self James probably realises too late that Rachel represents the provincial honesty of his actual future rather than Felix who embodies the emotional corruption of the capital city.
With his acute understanding of urban life Tom Campbell ultimately captures the sense of quality time being lost by the desire to speed up our lives. There’s almost a feeling of emptiness at the end and the underlying message that this vacuum could be filled by a return to the old fashioned values upheld by town planning and local government.
The Planner by Tom Campbell, published by Bloomsbury Circus. Price £8.99
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