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The Maintenance of Headway

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  821 ratings  ·  116 reviews
'It's a matter of procedure, ' I explained. 'Strictly for the record. You don't get sacked from this job unless you did what Thompson did.' 'What did he do then?' 'We never mention it.' In Magnus Mills' short novel he transports us into the world of the bus drivers who take us to work, to the supermarket, to the match & home again ...more
Paperback, 152 pages
Published August 1st 2010 by Bloomsbury UK (first published August 3rd 2009)
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Paul Sánchez Keighley
This trim, subtle comedy introduces us to the maintenance of headway, a system implemented in Britain to ensure buses always run on time, and exposes it as an unattainable chimera that requires constant tweaking and adjusting as, by its own design, it’s always teetering on the brink of falling apart.

(A book so flush with detailed inside information about a humdrum job turned bureaucratic nightmare could only really have been written by Thomas Pynchon or by a former bus driver; and Magnus Mills i
Gila Gila
Mar 31, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
So. Read this yet? Think it's dull, repetitive, lacking plot or any form of identifiable narrative? Right. I'm going to adjust you, and I'll tell you why.

On a daily basis, likely for the rest of my life, I shall be looking for opportunities to say - or at least think, smugly to myself - "I'm going to adjust you, and I'll tell you why." It's my favourite (oft repeated) line out of many, many funny lines in Magnus Mills' stop-go-and-wait short satire on the British bus system. Knowing Mills was a
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It doesn't take long to read a book about buses... Why they are late, why they are early, why they are on time - it's ridiculous. Which is the purpose of this book ☺️. Magnus Mills writes things like that and I enjoy them. If you think that is silly avoid his books. But if you think that is ridiculous you might be interested! Not his best but not his worst. ...more
Andy Mckinney
Aug 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: english-fiction
This was one of the funniest books I have ever read. If you have worked in a job with a lot of bureaucracy you will love this. I love how he portrays Mick turning into a company man and the whole idea of the maintenance of headway has to be based on Mills' experiences as a bus driver. It is too absurd not to be true. I also read his short story collection Screwtop Thompson which is very quirky as well. I can't think of anyone else who writes like Magnus and I definitely want to read more. I woul ...more
Alysha McDevitt
Aug 21, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book had potential-- I have never read a book about bus drivers, so it intrigued me but I was left disappointed. This book lacked a plot, and was very repetitive.
Bart Van Overmeire
Ah Magnus, bus driver novelist man! He's the best, always brings a smile to my face ...more
Aug 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of British dry wit
Shelves: fiction, satire, 2010
This was the third book I read for the 24-hour readathon in October, and the perfect kind of book for it too. The unnamed narrator (who could be based on Mills himself, who was once a bus driver), takes us deep into the inner workings of the London metropolitan bus system - or a city that greatly resembles London - with biting irony and fascinating detail.

The title refers to the golden rule of public transport: to maintain headway. This "headway" is the distance between buses - not too close, no
Perry Whitford
May 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Arch humorists, and bus drivers.
More mild madness from Mills. This time it's bus drivers versus inspectors - and both against passengers!

The "maintenance of headway" is the rule that inspectors live by, which dictates that buses should always keep a certain distance from each other, regardless of external factors.

The drivers see it differently, always trying to complete their routes early based on the principle that this will ensure they won't be late if they encounter a problem.

The passengers, of course, only want the buse
Mar 21, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, transport
This novel immerses the reader in the world of London bus drivers and their management, whose mantra is 'The Maintenance of Headway'. According to this worldview, running early is the worst thing a bus driver can do. Although London isn't specifically mentioned, that is manifestly the setting. My favourite thing about the novel was definitely the phrase 'bejewelled thoroughfare' to describe Oxford Street.

Not a great deal happens in this book, which describes the operation of a dynamic system fro
Jul 21, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
Holiday Read #1: The Busman's (non)Holiday (ho ho, see what I did there?)

It's a bit like an elderly relative: charming, knowledgeable, dignified, occasionally hilarious. And a tad dull and repetitive.

I knew a bus driver who used to joke with my my husband that he was going to steal me away from him. He looks like Lemmy from Motorhead and I did actually fancy him a lot, once upon a time, but he was a complete bampot.

I realise that this has absolutely nothing to do with the book, but he would have
Jul 22, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
[ 3.5 stars ] There's something weirdly cozy about Mills's workaday absurdism, and I probably read the entire book wearing an oblivious and stupid grin. I loved every minute I had with these amiably-suffering impotents, these cogs in a long-broken machine. There is a guileful System or Anti-system at work here, bent on an agenda of cognitive amputation, of excising freewill or at least utterly undermining the Reason of our heroes. But always they soldier on, determined with good humor to find th ...more
Ken McDouall
Nov 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This slender volume doesn't read so much like a novel as it does a good-natured polemic against meaningless bureaucratic rules and authority. Mills is, during his day job, a London bus driver, so he speaks from first-hand experience about the absurdity of attempts to enforce spacing between buses on a given route at the expense of common sense. His is never a rant, but rather a wry commentary, and it's an amusing read that doesn't pretend to be much else. ...more
Frank Jacobs
Aug 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Dry, repetitive, plotless, stuffed with bureaucratic jargon and procedural anecdotes – and so incredibly funny you wish the book would continue for another 150 pages: Magnus Mills, a former bus driver himself, perfectly captures the absurdities that govern public transport in an anonymised version of London.
The maintenance of headway is a great book. It takes the reader into the life of bus drivers. Magnus mills was a bus driver, that is why it was easy for him to describe the bus driver's life. I recommend this book because it introduces us to another life different from ours. ...more
Nov 06, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition's literary short fiction. Nothing actually happens in the book; however, it is an entertaining look at the London bus system.

It's a good read for being stuck somewhere you don't want to take a larger/heavier book.

Worth the time.
Dec 03, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A quick read, with an interesting concept/setting, but nothing happens.
Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer
Probably the most classic of all Mills’s books and the least allegorical.
Sep 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read2017
Mightily interesting to see Mills's usual deadpan absurdism applied to a much more realistic setting. ...more
Jan 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
It's a slight book; more than a short story, but not much more. But it doesn't really need to be much longer, deftly making its points about what it means to be a small part of a large bureaucracy.

I'm a bus-rider, although unfamiliar with the mysterious ways of London's transit system. So I really enjoyed the chance to see things through the eyes of a driver, and while I can't say for sure, obviously, it feels authentic. Mills captures both the monotony of bureaucracy, but also how strangely fa
Andy Weston
Or, "the notion that a fixed interval between buses on a regular service can be attained and adhered to."

It's as if Magnus Mills selects the most difficult and potentially boring things to write a novel about, and then goes about it. I refer to building fences of course (the very wonderful Restraint of Beasts), as well as in this case, buses. Then I looked at his profile and realised that for 7 years he was a fence builder, and since 2009 has been a London bus driver. Despite this many of his bo
Jun 30, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It sullies my soul to give less than 5 stars to this magnificent writer but I'm only holding him to his own standards! I've been reading Mills' work in chronological order this year and this is the only one that so far has not glistened with utmost perfection. That's not a diss, I just had to get it out of the way.
Another book about the banalities of working class bureaucracy by the master of the genre, written in clear concise language and signature deadpan humor. Mundane examinations of regul
Christopher Williams
The books of Magnus Mills are idiosyncratic but very funny when you get used to them. This is based on the subject of bus drivers and the running of a bus service, in London, although it is never specified. The running theme of "it is never acceptable to be early" is repeated throughout but actually becomes funnier as the book progresses. It is a microcosm of the world of work and working too which emphasizes the roles of drivers, managers etc. with a sharp insight. May not appeal to everyone bu ...more
May 13, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was short and a bit silly. I expected there to be a little more to the plot but it was still enjoyable. It was a quick read with some well-placed British-isms, which I always love. There wasn't a lot of character development, but I don't think there was meant to be. If you're looking for something British, light, and somewhat unique, I would recommend, and you'll probably finish it within a couple days. ...more
Nov 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: magnus-mills
A book about bus drivers where nothing much really happens and yet I couldn’t put it down. This is the third novel by Magnus Mills I have read since a friend lent me All Quiet On The Orient Express a short while ago and I have become a big fan of the author. You will either love the writing or hate it but luckily you will only have to read the first few pages to know on which side you fall.
Nov 18, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
was really glad to find that there are a few more new books by magnus mills since i last checked on him. dry, mired in routine of bus drivers yet he somehow manages to make it interesting and readable and funny and oddly full of anticipation. how the heck does he do that?
i rarely buy books but my library doesn't have the 2 prior to this one, and need them.
Nov 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Someone asked me what about this when I was reading it. I had no idea what to say. "It's a book about buses, kind of, and bus drivers I guess." I did a terrible job of explaining it. I am still not exactly sure what it is about, maybe it's deep and meaningful, but to me it was like a glass of cool water on a hot summer's day. ...more
Aug 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, tt-vi
what a find! i now know a bit about the history of British modern buses than i will probably ever need, and then some.

and to think i thought they were kidding when i saw the word kafkaesque on several reviews. what a delightful short book, honestly.
Mar 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An amusing and enjoyable book that almost has the feel of oral poetry, full of repetition, epithets and short scenes connected by a simple thread. Not much happens, but it's overall pleasantly written, quick, and with a great ending. ...more
I never thought a book chock full of information about busses, buss routes, and schedules could have been interesting. But, u felt I was sitting at the lunch table with these characters as they were taking about work. Very interesting.
Steve Dahlgren
Aug 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another masterpiece of making the mundane so very funny.
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