Interview blues. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice
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“My CV’s probably under-exaggerated”: The Apprentice blog series 10, episode 11

The final five candidates are interviewed by people even more obnoxious than they are.

WARNING: This blog is for people watching The Apprentice. Contains spoilers!

Read the episode 10 blog here.
 

We’ve reached the interviews stage, and all our favourite interrogators – plus a new angry face – have been laid on by Lord Sugar to pretend they’re qualified to level cruel put-downs and personal attacks at the perpetually embattled final five candidates.

There’s good old Bald Man Frothing with Malice (special skill: looking things up on Companies House using his computer), the trusty Haughty Media MD with Glass Orb (special skill: looking simultaneously smug and slightly concerned about her desk ornaments), old favourite That Guy Who Owns Shortlist (special skill: “reading between the lines”, apparently. Probably not of Shortlist though), and surprise newcomer Stunned Former Apprentice Winner (special skill: being allowed on telly during his lunchbreak).

A double-edged Claude. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

But before they face this high-altitude, low-quality recruitment process at the top of the Leadenhall Building (that’s the Cheesegrater to Londoners. And giants.), the contestants must put the finishing touches on their business plans.

This process involves each of the final five sitting separately looking perplexed over a lap of bumpf in a variety of showrooms in their Highgate mansion. Here’s Daniel, squelching over some projections beside a tropical plant and ostentatiously posing fruitbowl. There’s Roisin, her documents illuminated by a willowy statement lamp. Solomon pores over a page of figures on some ergonomic garden furniture. It’s a bit like a Habitat advert specifically targeting young professionals on the brink of redundancy.

The resident cameraman roams the house, asking each candidate how they feel about making it this far. In an emotional clip, Roisin weeps openly to camera about leaving her accountancy job “to do this”. It’s difficult to tell if she’s crying over how much the process means to her, or the stability, money and dignity she threw away by resigning.

Eventually, the five of them – Roisin, Solomon, Daniel, Mark and Bianca – gather in the twinkling Cheesegrater for a pep talk from his Sugary Lordship. Gesturing to their surroundings, he tells them, “like you, it’s not open for business yet,” in a rather obscene-sounding simile.

Roisin won't be choosing Pret's Classic Tomato soup for lunch. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

The candidates are told they will receive a grilling from Sugar's pack of aggressive advisers. “Sounds easy – NOT,” says Daniel, evoking the Nineties, as he swaggers off to his first interview. “Daniel’s the best to go first,” smirks Mark. “If you go after him, you look good, don’t you?”

What proceeds is a succession of people saying tragic things about CVs in uncomfortably-lit rooms. “I look at CVs day-in, day-out,” says Ricky Martin, a former Apprentice winner who sounds like he’s really living the business partnership dream. Living la vida loca, even. “My CV’s probably under-exaggerated,” says Daniel, modestly, having written that he won the Salesperson of the Year award – which he didn't. Sorry, I mean, "NOT".

Daniel won Salesperson of the Year. Not. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Roisin doesn’t do any better in her interview with the Shortlist boss, as she is faced with a pot noodle of shattered dreams on his desk and discovers her “unique” healthy ready meals are already on the market. Or perhaps she’s just really distressed because she’s wearing all white – a bad time to negotiate a noodle dish.

“Ideas generation” advocate Solomon is asked to read out some ideas from his phone. He must have been Googling bed-and-breakfasts, because he suggests both a delivery service of food to one’s house for breakfast in bed, and a place where you can pay to go to sleep.

But his toughest challenge is when he ascends to the sky-high office of infamous long-eared Claude Littner, whose already notably long ears extend even further in fury at the 23-year-old’s eight-page business plan. “It’s a bloody disgrace,” spits Claude, as Solomon crumples like a puppy being kicked. “You can leave. Pictures of sail boats! Pictures of sail boats!” he yells, like a crazed ClipArt user. “You’re taking the piss. Please leave.”

Bianca's lament. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

And if emotions are running high in Claude’s cloud box, they’re even higher when Bianca faces Ricky Martin. It seems to be an executive decision going forward ­– probably via a group Outlook conversation in which the interviewers reach out to one another – that Bianca is “hiding behind a mask” and repressing her personality.

This consensus leads to her on-screen psychological disintegration: “Oh my God, am I hiding something? I don’t know.” She then weeps to Martin as they debate what should be included in the price of paying for a recruitment consultant. A sad lone piano tinkles in the background as she wipes her eyes, and it all goes a bit X Factor.

“I’m more confident than ever,” says Mark, who doesn’t seem to receive as comprehensive a rollicking as his competitors.

Back in the boardroom, Lord Sugar’s advisers decide Solomon is a bit immature, Roisin and Daniel’s business plans are fundamentally flawed, and that there’s a lucrative place in the market for Bianca’s idea for different skin tones of hosiery (“I did some research, which I found quite pleasant,” grunts Claude, his ears lengthening lasciviously).

Daniel does his final signature clench-pout, before he’s booted off because no one wants to use his weird online wedding planning service; Solomon goes because his “fulfilment” business doesn’t fulfil Sugar’s criteria; Roisin is fired because she doesn’t seem to understand the basic fact that, “to fight for the space in the chillers in the supermarket, it’s like golddust, like Mayfair real estate”. Think of that next time you reach wearily for a treat from Dr Oetker.

Mark and Bianca survive for the final, as the dawn rises in gold-tinged hope over the Shard: God smiling upon us in the knowledge that there’s only one bloody episode left.

Two's company. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

 

Candidates to watch

Mark

Because he’s in the final.

Bianca

Because she’s in the final.

All the rest

Because they come back for the final.
 

I'll be blogging The Apprentice each week. Click here to follow it. Read my blog on the previous episode here. The show will air weekly on Wednesday evenings at 9pm on BBC One. Check back for the next instalment every Thursday morning.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Paula Hawkins: a pulp-feminist follow-up on The Girl on the Train

Hawkins’s writing displays a suspicion of power, especially male power, though she is also eager to identify moments of female collusion in misogyny. 

A couple of years ago, Paula Hawkins, an Oxford graduate with a run of chick-lit novels to her name (well, to her nom de plume Amy Silver), became the latest example of various splashy phenomena. Most obviously, The Girl on the Train, her first thriller, made Hawkins an out-of-nowhere, book-clubtastic, “movie rights gone in a flash” sensation, on the model of E L James. It also made Hawkins, who had formerly worked at the Times, one of those journalist-turned-juggernaut figures, like Robert Harris and Gillian Flynn, a beacon of light to every deadline-haunted hack.

Not so publicised was the kind of writer the book showed Hawkins to be. The Flynn comparisons were perfunctory, the overlap limited to shared use of multiple narrators and that not uncommon word, “girl”. A puff from Stephen King was a little more in tune with Hawkins’s sensibility, a taste for the Gothic intensities that lurk beneath the everyday; but King’s praise – it kept him up all night – still missed her strangest virtue: not the gift for making people turn a lot of pages and feel foggy on the next day’s commute, but for using the mystery thriller form as a back-door polemic, every revelation bringing an adjustment of world-view, every twist of the plot putting a spin on what we thought she thought. More striking than Hawkins’s late success or old career was her emergence as a new practitioner of feminist pulp, the sub-subgenre in which men destroy and women suffer, whose most recent classic had been Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones and whose presiding genius – its queen for fifty years and counting – is the hydra-headed literary combustion engine who usually signs herself Joyce Carol Oates.

Hawkins’s new novel, Into the Water, serves to make things clearer. It enables her readers to sketch a Venn diagram to identify what was incidental to The Girl on the Train – what merely helped to grease the wheels – and what she is obsessed with. Why call it an obsession and not a crutch, a formula, the hardening of habit? Not because what Hawkins is up to conflicts with readability – clearly that isn’t the case – but because she is building novels more intricate, more packed with implication, than readability demands.

Like The Girl on the Train, the new novel centres on a female victim with alleged deficiencies as a woman and mother. The body of Danielle “Nel” Abbott, a writer and photographer, is discovered in the part of a lake known as “the drowning pool”. Nel wasn’t much liked by the other local women. She had ideas above her station. She was a “slattern”. In fact, Nel’s death goes unmourned by everyone except her wild 15-year-old daughter, Lena, who is convinced her mother jumped, but for a good – withheld – reason. To Nel’s unmarried sister, Jules, who ignored a number of phone calls and messages, and who has travelled from London to watch over Lena and identify the body, Nel’s death is the final insult, another way of upsetting her existence.

Into the Water follows its predecessor in applying laser scrutiny to a small patch, but there are signs of growth and greater ambition. Last time the setting was a pair of houses on Blenheim Road, Bucks. Here it is the community of Beckford, a village in or near Northumberland, several hours’ drive from anywhere civilised – “if you consider Newcastle civilised”, in the words of one character. The Girl on the Train had three female narrators describing events, in mildly jagged order, that occurred across a single summer. The new novel features testimony from five characters, including Jules, Lena and the brother of Lena’s dead best friend, and provides close access, in the third person, to another five, including the best friend’s mother. Alongside these ten voices are sections narrated by Jules in 1993 – her experiences carry echoes of Stephen King’s Carrie – as well as passages from Nel’s unfinished manuscript: a photographic history of the Beckford lake called The Drowning Pool, containing a prologue and descriptions of three previous deaths, dating from 1920, 1983 and 1679.

The book isn’t free of cliché – the phrase “out of the woods” is not a reference to the rural setting – and some of Hawkins’s devices border on cheating. At various points a narrator starts talking about a previously shrouded incident soon after it has been revealed elsewhere, as if the characters were in cahoots, conspiring how best to frustrate the reader. There’s much recourse to the undefined event, the word “it”. (What?!) The outsider figure, Detective Sergeant Erin Morgan, is severely restricted in her role as a conduit for backstory. “Have you not seen any background on this?” her superior asks. No, she hasn’t. But Erin “should have been given the files”. Well, she wasn’t.

But most of the time, the novel is plausible and grimly gripping, and Hawkins plays fair. Characters aren’t only lying to us, they are often lying to themselves, or else they’re misinformed. The reader always knows more than any one character but never knows all that a character knows, and Hawkins trusts that the promise of enlightenment is sufficiently seductive to deliver information by the drip.

So, Into the Water is on a par with The Girl on a Train – and of a piece with it, too. Hawkins’s writing displays a suspicion of power, especially male power, though she is also eager to identify moments of female collusion not just in patriarchal structures, but in misogyny. The blame lies with men, who react with violence and psychological abuse to the perceived threat of a woman’s independence. But one of the main products of this mistreatment is that the female characters overlook the role played by such damage when considering other women’s behaviour and subscribe instead to a male-sanctioned narrative of stubborn irrationality or wilful coldness.

Hawkins seems more engaged with the second part of the equation, the way that women see themselves and each other. The radicalism of The Girl on the Train and Into the Water depends partly on the persuasive depiction of figures such as (in Girl) the pathetic drunk and the unrepentant home-wrecker, and in the new novel the money-grabbing mystic, the joyless spinster, the trouble-making man-eater. Then Hawkins exposes the truth behind the cardboard, the way these images have been constructed and perpetuated. Her plotting works as an ambush and also as a rebuke. “You didn’t believe that nonsense, did you?” she seems to be saying. “Oh, you did – and here’s why.”

The effect is less patronising than perhaps it sounds. The rebuke is aimed at the reader not as a citizen but as a participant in the thriller tradition. After all, the victim who deserved it is a familiar character: we have little trouble believing the type. Hawkins has set herself the challenge of adding a third dimension to the dramatis personae bequeathed by Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler. We are accustomed to characters shifting shape as a story develops. The obvious suspect – twitchy, tattooed, alibi-less – was all along a Good Samaritan; the spotless widow has a cellar full of skulls. Hawkins goes further, showing how narrative presumptions betray unconscious beliefs, upending clichés of other people’s making. You might dismiss her as a killjoy if she wasn’t so addictive. 

Leo Robson is the lead fiction reviewer for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 20 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble

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