The Maintenance of Headway

The title of Magnus Mills's sixth novel refers to the first commandment in the life of a bus driver - thou shalt safeguard at all times a set time and distance behind the bus ahead.

Much of this charming novella is given over to drivers' discussions about the daily struggle of maintaining headway, and the misery of incurring the wrath of hubristic bus inspectors when they fail. Although the dialogue, which is littered with moments of sublimely deadpan humour, is the most impressive thing about the book, the plot is perfectly serviceable and engaging.

The third-person narration is delivered in simple prose that is well suited to conveying the nuances and vicissitudes of the insular world of the bus driver - a job that Mills continues to fit around novel-writing.

The petty conspiracies and paradoxes of the drivers' daily routines are captured beautifully, as are the resonant little tragedies of bad faith that Mills portrays so deftly.

Bloomsbury, 152pp, £10

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Afghanistan: The Lost War