Cover of book: Sadvertising

Ennis Ćehić

Ennis Ćehić has done something remarkable – in a book of 50 stories, only one of them reads like filler. Sadvertising feels complete, well rounded and carefully planned and structured.

The experience of reading this collection is like being completely immersed in a mind as it interrogates creativity, career and a person’s place in the world. It wanders off on delightful tangents – telling stories about related facts or drifting into the nightmare equivalent of daydreams. While the strength of individual works does wax and wane, the distance between the highs and lows are small – and the impact of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Ćehić moves between protagonists with ease. There’s the copywriter who creates the world’s greatest banner ad and an influencer who moonlights as her own PA. There’s an alternate reality Kendall Jenner navigating the fallout from her ill-advised Pepsi ad, and a woman who writes a bestseller during the many pointless meetings she is forced to attend. The people we see most are office workers – in particular those working in advertising companies. We watch them driven mad by office culture, coming to the realisation that their dreams have been shrunk and ambitions tamped down.

The stories bleed into one another thematically, but for the most part the plots remain discrete. Ćehić relishes the opportunity to experiment with structure and tenses, injecting the surreal into his stories to different degrees. He zooms in on the mundane and twists it, exposing the ridiculousness of so many of the day-to-day things we normally take in our stride. The unexpected turns at the end of some of the stories usually are highly effective but on occasion feel a bit too left-field. His use of future tense, peppered throughout the book, is one of the most striking techniques, placing both reader and book in a strange limbo almost outside time and reality.

This feeling is furthered in the three “Meta Ennis” stories used as Sadvertising’s scaffolding. Each one is very different but, as the titles suggest, include the collection’s author in some way. Across these three stories Ćehić probes the line between truth and fiction, using his own presence to lend his critique and insights extra depth.

Each story is succinct, with some just over a page long. They work like the way ads do – drawing you in with a (literally) bold first line, getting straight to the point, then offering a relatable idea or image or truth. Most make you walk away with a question – Is my job stifling my creativity? Is social media taking up too much space in my mind? Are the things I think are important actually deeply, profoundly, shallow? – while the others serve to colour in the world around them.

Sadvertising will make you laugh, it will make you pause – and maybe it will make you quit your job. 

Vintage Australia, 304pp, $32.99

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 16, 2022 as "Sadvertising, Ennis Ćehić ".

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Elizabeth Flux is a writer, editor and critic.

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