Mil Millington, Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About
It seems a bit unfair to critique Mil Millington’s Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About based on its ending. The finale is not a let-down but it isn’t the closure that one might want. Millington, after all, has spent the entire novel building tensions. His protagonist, Pel Dalton, is promoted from from one job he doesn’t understand to another that’s even murkier where he finds he must deal with some unsavory people. He has two young boys who ride his nerves. He gets robbed. And of course, there are the innumerable arguments with his German girlfriend, Ursula.
Given all the tension, the reader can only hope for some resolution. TMGAIHAA is a pop novel after all. Pel’s sons play GameBoys and Pel himself works in an IT department — these are hardly timeless characters. Part of the reason for reading a pop novel is for the satisfaction delivered in a well-wrapped conclusion. Especially with a character such as Pel, who despite many well-placed barbs, is essentially spineless. His job rolls over him; his girlfriend does; his tenants in the house he rents take advantage of him. We want to see some character growth or change.
The novel’s anticlimax may be due to its Britishness. Irish writer Robert Cremins’s first novel A Sort of Homecoming as well as Nick Hornby’s About a Boy ended in similarly cute fashions. Though in those novels, loose ends were tied up. Perhaps Millington sought to eliminate the problems of having a weak third act by not having one. It’s an interesting choice for a writer to make – to build tension to what would ordinarily be a breaking point and simply end there – but it’s a choice that subverts the reason we read pop novels.
This one criticism is a tad unfair because it ignores the hilarious story that leads up to the end. Some of the arguments between Pel and Ursula are so hysterical that they cause tears. Likewise, absurd vignettes in Pel’s workplace capture the ridiculous atmosphere of just about every cubicle job. Pel riffs on the TLAs (three letter acronyms) so popular in IT departments, the bizarre characters who inhabit senior positions, and the endless and senseless bureaucracy.
As with Pel and Ursula’s relationship, it’s not necessarily the ending that is important but the journey. Despite my initial disappointment in the lack of a denouement, I recall the unbelievably entertaining arguments between Pel and Ursula as well as most of the rest of the dialogue with real fondness.