If ‘1984‘ or ‘The Trial‘ had been a children’s book, Mr Messy would be it. No literary character has ever been so fully and categorically obliterated by the forces of social control. Hargreaves may well pay homage to Kafka and Orwell in this work, but he also goes beyond them.
We meet Mr Messy – a man whose entire day-to-day existence is the undiluted expression of his individuality. His very untidiness is a metaphor for his blissful and unselfconscious disregard for the Social Order. Yes, there are times when he himself is a victim of this individuality – as when he trips over a brush he has left on his garden path – but he goes through life with a smile on his face.
That is, until a chance meeting with Mr Neat and Mr Tidy – the archetypal men in suits. They set about a merciless programme of social engineering and indoctrination that we are left in no doubt is in flagrant violation of his free will. ‘But I like being messy’ he protests as they anonymize both his home and his person with their relentless cleaning activity, a symbolism thinly veiled.
This process is so thorough that by the end of it he is unrecognizable – a homogenized pink blob, no longer truly himself (that vibrant Pollock-like scribble of before). He smiles the smile of a brainwashed automaton, blandly accepting what he has been given no agency to question or refuse. It is in this very smile that the sheer horror of what we have seen to occur is at its most acute.
The reviewer, Hamilton Richardson, tackles more of the characters here.