Top 10 Office Job Novels | Books

Identifiable by the bright front doors on their covers, noir domestic novels have become an established genre in recent years. But we still don’t have a deadline for their office counterpart. Yet there is just as much power in this setting.

Much the same extremes of human experience play out there. Colleagues take on the emotional burden normally absorbed by family members; our most personal belongings are often hidden under desks and in drawers. There are few jokes as powerful as those in the office, but the mood can change quickly with pressure from an angry boss or a missed deadline. The office is a place of extremes, intense with the buzz of industry and the threat of bankruptcy, and this is a perfect starting point for the narrative.

As a writer who finds it helpful to anchor fictional plot and characters in a place or setting I am familiar with, I have started mulling the idea of ​​using the office environment for my fourth book. While I now work from home, for years I holed up under the anonymous armpits of other commuters daily and made my way to the office. What happened on floor 34? it puts the workplace front and center in the action, and I’ve picked out other books here that do the same.

1. The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
I was lucky not to have met a truly awful boss when I first read it, which means I could only enjoy it for the edgy and funny novel it is, about a young woman who goes to work for the tyrannical fashion editor Miranda Priestly. When I returned to it for a reread, I’d worked in multiple offices and the Miranda Priestlys of my own life made it resonate in a different, stark Priestly in her reign of terror. I went freelance shortly after.

2. Then we came to the end of Joshua Ferris
Offices are places where great comedies can be found. Booker-picked Joshua Ferris pins this humor in this character-driven novel with a huge cast of eccentric characters; it is both tender and tragic at the same time.

3. The Dave Eggers circle
Published nearly 10 years ago, this novel – set in a Silicon Valley social media giant – was incredibly prescient. Shedding light on how we put all of ourselves into the jobs we love, The Circle sees Mae land her dream gig. Before long, work is her life. A cautionary reminder to pay attention to your work-life balance.

4. It Doesn’t Work by Lisa Owens
I don’t tend to laugh out loud at books; this is still one of the few novels that forced me into an audible chuckle. Not Working makes this list on a technicality – it’s actually set when you leave an office – but I would argue that the workplace and its role in shaping our identities are central to this novel by virtue of its absence, as Claire struggles to find his feet without the marketing job he has left.

5. Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many novels set in offices choose publishing as their industry of choice. In Spark’s tale, we return to the postwar London bookshop business, where the forthright down-to-earth Mrs. Hawkins (a favorite phrase for a terrible writer: a “pisseur de copy”) manages to lose not one but two jobs in these, his witty recollections of 30 years later.

Hope Lange (left) in the 1959 film version of The Best of Everything.
Glorious … Hope Lange (left) in the 1959 film version of The Best of Everything. Cinematography: 20th Century Fox/Allstar

6. Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe
Jaffe’s excellent novel (proved to be reading material for Mad Men’s Don Draper) traces the arrival of women to the office in 1950s New York. It tells the story of three young women, Caroline, April and Gregg, who work in a pool of New York typists, balancing their jobs with the different pressures in their lives. The book digs deep—Jaffe interviewed 50 women about the most private parts of their lives to research him—while offering a levity that makes him seem more modern than he is. Glorious.

7. There is no easy job by Kikuko Tsumura
This novel – translated from Japanese by Polly Barton – has come at an opportune time. Published in 2020, en is about an unnamed thirty-something woman who walks into an employment agency and asks for a job that requires minimal thought. The book took a close look at the workplace and its place in our lives at the exact time many had just left it behind and were adjusting to Zoom calls and elastic waistbands. Quietly fun. Absurd. Absolutely worth a read.

8. Zakiya’s other black girl Dalila Harris
An important book that delves into race and class within the publishing industry. When Nella joins Wagner Books, she is part of a new generation of publishers in a predominantly white industry. Then comes Hazel-May, “the other black girl,” and before we know it the book veers off and we’re in the realm of a thriller.

9. Daisy Buchanan’s Career
I’m a huge fan of Buchanan’s writing and would read a how-to manual if that were one he wanted to publish next, but the description of this 2022 novel particularly intrigued me. Examining our relationships to our work in the minute detail we often reserve for romance, Buchanan tells the story of two women at a crossroads in their journalism careers. Bursting with empathy and wit, this book will get your heart racing.

10. Little Pleasures by Clare Chambers
They lent it to me while I was working on What Happened on Floor 34?, at a time when I usually look for books that are far from what I’m writing. I didn’t realize until I opened Clare Chambers’ giant word of mouth that it was also set in a newspaper office and by then it was too late to put this beautiful book down. I was hooked. Chambers uses the germ of reporter Jean’s story—a woman who contacts her claiming that her daughter was the result of a virgin birth—to form the novel’s narrative. A beautifully crafted gift of a book.

Caroline Corcoran is the author of four books. Her latest, What Happened on Floor 34?, is published by Avon. To help Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply.

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