Review: Martin Harbottle’s Appreciation of Time by Dominic Utton


Title: Martin Harbottle’s Appreciation of Time

Author: Dominic Utton

Published: One World Publications April 2014

Read an Extract

Status:  Read from April 23 to 26, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Martin Harbottle’s Appreciation of Time is a funny and engaging novel, written in epistolary format, consisting of emails between Dan, a frustrated commuter, and Martin Harbottle, Managing Director of Premier Westward Trains.

A tabloid journalist, with a wife and newborn daughter at home, Dan is fed up with the continual delays he experiences during his daily commute between London and Oxford and, after fourteen months, demands a explanation from Premier Westward Trains customer service. When he receives no reply to his repeated queries, Dan tracks down the private email address of Martin Harbottle, Managing Director, and decides he will send the man an email every time he experiences a delay, with the length of the email to be equal to that of the delay he experienced whether it by 5 minutes, 12 minutes, or 17 minutes – the idea being that he would waste the same amount of his time as the train service had wasted his.

At first, Dan’s emails to Martin express his frustration at the poor service he endures, but soon Martin becomes Dan’s (mostly) silent confessor, as he shares everything from his musings about his fellow commuters – Train Girl, Lego Head and Universal Grandfather, to the distress of his strained marriage, to the looming crisis at his workplace, The Globe, loosely based on the disgraced ‘News of The World’.

Martin’s replies are often officious and dispassionate, briefly providing Dan with explanations for the delays his experiences, variously vandalism, late employees, or faulty signal boxes. But every now and then he engages with Dan with response to a question or a word of solicited advice.

I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed Martin Harbottle’s Appreciation of Time. Dan is eminently likeable, and his emails are full of keen observations, snarky wit and a just enough middle-class/ middle age angst to be both funny and poignant. I expect this novel would capture the imagination of many a commuter, no matter the mode of transport, it did mine.

**Note: For two years journalist Dominic Utton commuted between Oxford and London on First Great Western trains. In late June 2011, after 14 months of paying around £450 a month for utterly appalling service, he decided to speak up. Every time his train was delayed, he wrote to the Managing Director and Director of Communications for FGW trains – and the length of his email reflected the length of that day’s delay. He shared these missives on his blog, Letters to First Great Western and they are the inspiration for the novel, Martin Harbottle’s Appreciation of Time.


Martin Harbottle’s Appreciation of Time is available to purchase from

OneWorld Publications I BookDepository

Amazon AU I Amazon US I Amazon UK

  via Booko



4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. MarthaE
    Apr 29, 2014 @ 12:14:10

    41/2 stars caught my attention. This sounds like it would be a fun read.. maybe fun in audio too. Thanks for sharing.



  2. Trackback: SUNDAY SHOUT OUT | Write Note Reviews
  3. Trackback: Book Review – MARTIN HARBOTTLE’S APPRECIATION OF TIME by Dominic Utton
  4. Stephanie Jane
    May 15, 2019 @ 05:16:37

    Thanks for sharing your link to Martin Harbottle. I think I’d enjoy this novel and it had previously passed me by!

    Liked by 1 person


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