After a year of virtual working, do you feel more than ready to get back to the real workplace? Hold that thought for just a second. Can you remember what it was actually like? The commute? Getting dressed up (or dressed down)? Those weird people you work with – are you ready for them to be your main social contacts again?
This had me thinking about how few novels actually are set in every day work environments, despite the fact that most of our lifetime is spent there. This is not for lack of experience; most writers will have ‘real’ jobs on top of their writing, so the workplace is not unfamiliar to them. (Apart from the really successful writers, people like Stephen King who gets round his lack of workplace experience by having most of his protagonists being writers themselves – The Shining, Misery, etc).
So here are my favourite novels which do focus on working life; after reading these, do you feel ready to get back out there?
1. A Far Cry From Kensington – Muriel Spark. Set in 1954 (although it was published in 1988) it features a young war widow working in a publishing house while living in a boarding house and being stalked as well. The stalking, the boarding house, and the publishers’ office all feel incredibly real, and the novel is dark but also funny in turns. It will probably remind you just how bad working in an office can be, even in the supposedly glamorous world of publishing.
2. Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid. From 1954 to contemporary, this recent novel is set in the surreal working world of nannies and social influencers. It’s a tense and believable look at class/wealth and race in modern day America. At the end of it you probably won’t fancy being a nanny or an influencer, which is probably a good thing.
3. Longbourne – Jo Baker. I simply had to include this wonderful book which is one of the best things I’ve read for a long time. It’s a re-imagining of the world of Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of the servants in Longbourne (The Bennet sisters’ home). Not sure I’m desperate to be a domestic servant in the eighteenth century now, even if I could meet Mr Darcy.
4. Ginger You’re Barmy – David Lodge. Having commented at the beginning of this blog about how few authors seem to set their novels in the world of work, David Lodge is definitely an exception. He has a whole series of brilliant novels set in the world of academia, but this – his first novel – was set in the world of National Service. It’s brilliant. But I’m certainly not tempted by army life after that one.
5. The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins. Commuting by train – remember that? Here is the book to remind you just how great working from home could be. The scariest thriller of 2015 – you couldn’t write it now…
6. You Don’t Have to be Evil to Work Here, but it Helps – Tom Holt. Tom Holt writes very funny fantasy novels set in slightly skewed versions of our reality. This book is part of a series set in an incredibly boring and baffling office, J.W. Wells & Co, who also happen to be magic. If you haven’t discovered the prolific Tom Holt yet, you are in for a treat (I can particularly recommend Blond Bombshell about a race of dogs who are trying to destroy Earth).
7. The Taxidermist’s Daughter – Kate Moss. Cheating a bit here as this is probably not a world of work most of us would recognise – taxidermy (home working too!) but it is fascinating, and an integral part of the story. Atmospheric and believable.
8. i Don’t Know How She Does It – Allison Pearson. The author may be someone you might not want to give your hard earned dosh to nowadays , but when this book came out in 2002, highlighting issues for working women, it was spot on and I remember reading it and recognising aspects of my life, for sure.
9. Martin Lukes: Who Moved my Blackberry? – Lucy Kellaway. Another book which is maybe a bit out of date now – does anyone have Blackberries any more? – but it’s a funny read about Martin and his struggle to get to the top of the corporate ladder, and how is undermined by texts on his Blackberry. The narration is interesting too as it almost entirely done in texts.
10. Bridget Jones Diary – Helen Fielding. Had to be on here, didn’t it? And unlike some of the above this has really stood the test of time. Alright so maybe Daniel wouldn’t get away with the sexual harassment quite as easily now, but apart from that – it’s all still true isn’t it?
So… what do you think? Ready to get out there? Or is it back on with the onesie?