Working titles? Authors who take on the 9-to-5 World of work is often perceived as dull and dreary – but that’s not always the case

 MICROSERFS

The Cambridge dictionary defines work as an activity, such as a job, that a person uses physical energy to do, usually for money. Physics defines work as moving a force over a given distance which rings true for all us worker bees who daily move forces over vast distances in a sisyphean effort to make a living. Jerome K Jerome stated: “I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.” Honoré de Balzac wrote that all happiness depends on courage and work.The Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno said that “work is the only practical consolation for having been born’’.

Douglas Coupland has declared the nine to five as barbaric and thinks that one day we will look back at nine-to-five employment in a similar way to how we now view child labour in the 19th century. He has always been one of the sharpest critics of the modern workplace and his literary works such as Generation XJPod and Microserfs all revolve around smart and creative young people struggling with the demands of the corporate world.

The world of work is tainted by being perceived as being dull and dreary and to depict it using prose can prove a project too stultifying for a novelist to dedicate a few years to its depiction. Considering the ubiquity of the work experience in our lives, novels that focus on the working life do not crowd the shelves of bookshops. When a novelist can explore heightened worlds innervated with psychological tension the mundane terrain of the water cooler and a poor performance appraisal can seem a turgid option.When there’s war, heartbreak, murder, fictitious future worlds, class struggle, familial discord and clever plots aplenty why would any fiction writer preoccupy himself with the nine to five?

In The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway, the narrator of the story, heads east to learn the bond business but, instead of office politics, the novel pulsates with high drama and extravagant parties. The odd sentence appears in the novel to confirm that Nick has a job: “Up in the city, I tried for a while to list the quotations on an interminable amount of stock, then I fell asleep in my swivel chair.”

Yuval Noah Harari the author of Sapiens recently predicted that most jobs that exist today might disappear within decades. He writes that as artificial intelligence outperforms humans in more and more tasks, it will replace humans in more and more jobs. If a world of post-work awaits us future generations can learn about the nine to five through works of fiction which will stand as a testament to the world of work. Reading most contemporary fiction one might assume that real life was something that went on outside of working hours. The following novels put work firmly where, in the majority of people’s lives it belongs – in the middle.

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

All jobs entail tedium and toil but the depiction of the work environment in a regional tax-processing centre on the outskirts of Peoria, Illinois, takes brain-crushing boredom to a new level of pain. One of the characters’ remarks that “enduring tedium over real time in a confined space is what real courage is”. There is a stunning passage about men on a work break, standing around talking about nothing in particular, but it nails the condition of bleak office-life with definitive accuracy.Wallace focuses on an assortment of misfits, eccentrics and outsiders who come to work at the I.R.S. and work as accountants, pushing paper and numbers in a generic office fitted with fluorescent lights, modular shelving and the ceaseless “whisper of sourceless ventilation”.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

SWEET BITTER

Ever since Anthony Bourdain published Kitchen Confidential in 2000 there has been a vogue for books that take us behind the scenes into the intoxicating world of restaurant work. Stephanie Danler’s debut novel is a poetic coming-of-age story about a young woman, Tess’s, experience working as a waitress in a Union Square Cafe, negotiating both New York and a new world of tastes and desires. Her descriptions of the aftermath of the sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle are rendered with poetic dazzle.Unwelcome daybreak with its ensuing horror is “a dagger of morning prowled outside the open windows”, and “sunrise came like an undisclosed verdict”. Danler’s description of the panic of the unannounced health department inspection will resonate will all workers who have lived through similar situations. The narrator distills from her experience of her working life some philosophical truths including that “ a certain connoisseurship of taste,a mark of how you deal with the world, is the ability to relish the bitter, to crave it even, the way you do the sweet”.

Personal Days by Ed Parks

When Ed Parks was let go after New Times Media took over The Village Voicehe wrote this novel channelling the pre-layoff atmosphere of dread and anxiety into witty prose. Personal Days unfolds in three parts: Can’t Undo, Replace All and Revert to Saved, all familiar from Microsoft Word. He employs the language of computer software to narrate the happenings in the archipelagos of cubicle clusters while lambasting the lingo of corporate speak. Parks has said that this is “a layoff narrative” for our times.

Microserfs by Douglas Coupland

Daniel Underwood the narrator of this novel is a 26-year-old aspiring code writer, an affable insomniac who tells the story through his online journal Daniel@microsoft.com. Daniel and his fellow “microserfs” lead lives of frantic tedium tethered to their computer screens for 15 hour days, living on junk food and obsessing about Bill Gates. The novel makes a prescient point that “machines really are our subconscious” in this entertaining depiction of life as a computer techie in the early days of the technological revolution.

London and the South-East by David Szalay

LONDON

Thoreau’s observation that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation finds embodiment in the character of Paul Rainey, the anti-hero of this sharply written satire on the modern workplace. He is an ad salesman with a company engaged in the increasingly profitless business of selling advertising space in trade magazines whose only subscribers are the advertisers themselves. The novel’s evocations of the day-to-day textures of the workplace, the routines, rivalries, allegiances, resentment and camaraderie, the lunch hours in the pub, the Monday morning postmortems of weekends. Paul’s dissatisfaction with his life lived in a sapping fog of alcohol and automation is brilliantly conveyed by Szalay: “Lying in his tepid bed, wheezing shallowly, eyes shut, ticker fluttering, his head a tightening knot of pain, he is once more sentient of his self, and his situation.” This novel is compulsively readable; Szalay’s prose and darkly comic tone make this a classic of the genre.

50 Jobs Worse Than Yours by Justin Racz Satirist

Justin Racz has spanned the globe to find 50 jobs that can only instil gratitude in any worker complaining about the difficulty of his job.This mini-book with 50 jobs and 50 photos showcases occupations from silly to gross, tedious to terrifying and may serve to dispel all work woes and take the blue out of Mondays, at least until it rolls around again.

No Time For Work by George Ryan

In the humorous tradition of Myles na gGopaleen, Ryan’s comic novel’s narrator is a newly qualified teacher who along with his friend Cecil Chuckleworth do all in their power to avoid work.They manage to outwit headmasters, school inspectors, parish priests and publicans with their escapades in an effort to live the dream, getting paid for sipping porter. The misadventures and comic capers will raise a smile with any reader who has navigated the Irish education system; Ryan writes that “long ago I discovered that teaching is an easy way of earning a living provided that one does not make the mistake of actually teaching.”

The Cambridge dictionary defines work as an activity, such as a job, that a person uses physical energy to do, usually for money. Physics defines work as moving a force over a given distance which rings true for all us worker bees who daily move forces over vast distances in a sisyphean effort to make a living. Jerome K Jerome stated: “I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.” Honoré de Balzac wrote that all happiness depends on courage and work.The Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno said that “work is the only practical consolation for having been born’’.

Douglas Coupland has declared the nine to five as barbaric and thinks that one day we will look back at nine-to-five employment in a similar way to how we now view child labour in the 19th century. He has always been one of the sharpest critics of the modern workplace and his literary works such as Generation XJPod and Microserfs all revolve around smart and creative young people struggling with the demands of the corporate world.

The world of work is tainted by being perceived as being dull and dreary and to depict it using prose can prove a project too stultifying for a novelist to dedicate a few years to its depiction. Considering the ubiquity of the work experience in our lives, novels that focus on the working life do not crowd the shelves of bookshops. When a novelist can explore heightened worlds innervated with psychological tension the mundane terrain of the water cooler and a poor performance appraisal can seem a turgid option.When there’s war, heartbreak, murder, fictitious future worlds, class struggle, familial discord and clever plots aplenty why would any fiction writer preoccupy himself with the nine to five?

In The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway, the narrator of the story, heads east to learn the bond business but, instead of office politics, the novel pulsates with high drama and extravagant parties. The odd sentence appears in the novel to confirm that Nick has a job: “Up in the city, I tried for a while to list the quotations on an interminable amount of stock, then I fell asleep in my swivel chair.”

Yuval Noah Harari the author of Sapiens recently predicted that most jobs that exist today might disappear within decades. He writes that as artificial intelligence outperforms humans in more and more tasks, it will replace humans in more and more jobs. If a world of post-work awaits us future generations can learn about the nine to five through works of fiction which will stand as a testament to the world of work. Reading most contemporary fiction one might assume that real life was something that went on outside of working hours. The following novels put work firmly where, in the majority of people’s lives it belongs – in the middle.

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

All jobs entail tedium and toil but the depiction of the work environment in a regional tax-processing centre on the outskirts of Peoria, Illinois, takes brain-crushing boredom to a new level of pain. One of the characters’ remarks that “enduring tedium over real time in a confined space is what real courage is”. There is a stunning passage about men on a work break, standing around talking about nothing in particular, but it nails the condition of bleak office-life with definitive accuracy.Wallace focuses on an assortment of misfits, eccentrics and outsiders who come to work at the I.R.S. and work as accountants, pushing paper and numbers in a generic office fitted with fluorescent lights, modular shelving and the ceaseless “whisper of sourceless ventilation”.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

Ever since Anthony Bourdain published Kitchen Confidential in 2000 there has been a vogue for books that take us behind the scenes into the intoxicating world of restaurant work. Stephanie Danler’s debut novel is a poetic coming-of-age story about a young woman, Tess’s, experience working as a waitress in a Union Square Cafe, negotiating both New York and a new world of tastes and desires. Her descriptions of the aftermath of the sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle are rendered with poetic dazzle.Unwelcome daybreak with its ensuing horror is “a dagger of morning prowled outside the open windows”, and “sunrise came like an undisclosed verdict”. Danler’s description of the panic of the unannounced health department inspection will resonate will all workers who have lived through similar situations. The narrator distills from her experience of her working life some philosophical truths including that “ a certain connoisseurship of taste,a mark of how you deal with the world, is the ability to relish the bitter, to crave it even, the way you do the sweet”.

Personal Days by Ed Parks

When Ed Parks was let go after New Times Media took over The Village Voicehe wrote this novel channelling the pre-layoff atmosphere of dread and anxiety into witty prose. Personal Days unfolds in three parts: Can’t Undo, Replace All and Revert to Saved, all familiar from Microsoft Word. He employs the language of computer software to narrate the happenings in the archipelagos of cubicle clusters while lambasting the lingo of corporate speak. Parks has said that this is “a layoff narrative” for our times.

Microserfs by Douglas Coupland

Daniel Underwood the narrator of this novel is a 26-year-old aspiring code writer, an affable insomniac who tells the story through his online journal Daniel@microsoft.com. Daniel and his fellow “microserfs” lead lives of frantic tedium tethered to their computer screens for 15 hour days, living on junk food and obsessing about Bill Gates. The novel makes a prescient point that “machines really are our subconscious” in this entertaining depiction of life as a computer techie in the early days of the technological revolution.

London and the South-East by David Szalay

Thoreau’s observation that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation finds embodiment in the character of Paul Rainey, the anti-hero of this sharply written satire on the modern workplace. He is an ad salesman with a company engaged in the increasingly profitless business of selling advertising space in trade magazines whose only subscribers are the advertisers themselves. The novel’s evocations of the day-to-day textures of the workplace, the routines, rivalries, allegiances, resentment and camaraderie, the lunch hours in the pub, the Monday morning postmortems of weekends. Paul’s dissatisfaction with his life lived in a sapping fog of alcohol and automation is brilliantly conveyed by Szalay: “Lying in his tepid bed, wheezing shallowly, eyes shut, ticker fluttering, his head a tightening knot of pain, he is once more sentient of his self, and his situation.” This novel is compulsively readable; Szalay’s prose and darkly comic tone make this a classic of the genre.

50 Jobs Worse Than Yours by Justin Racz Satirist

Justin Racz has spanned the globe to find 50 jobs that can only instil gratitude in any worker complaining about the difficulty of his job.This mini-book with 50 jobs and 50 photos showcases occupations from silly to gross, tedious to terrifying and may serve to dispel all work woes and take the blue out of Mondays, at least until it rolls around again.

No Time For Work by George Ryan

In the humorous tradition of Myles na gGopaleen, Ryan’s comic novel’s narrator is a newly qualified teacher who along with his friend Cecil Chuckleworth do all in their power to avoid work.They manage to outwit headmasters, school inspectors, parish priests and publicans with their escapades in an effort to live the dream, getting paid for sipping porter. The misadventures and comic capers will raise a smile with any reader who has navigated the Irish education system; Ryan writes that “long ago I discovered that teaching is an easy way of earning a living provided that one does not make the mistake of actually teaching.”

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Tolstoy, TS Eliot and CS Lewis: the writers inspired by Easter As well as the religious symbolism of Easter the idea of becoming new is very potent

With the wealth of inspiration that the homeliness of Christmas offers, Easter can appear to be literature’s second-string festival. As a festival, Easter offers real drama. It begins with triumph, goes through betrayal, despair, suffering and for believer’s it culminates in great triumph. For a novelist it offers a great symbolic journey, which as well as being the journey of a great man is the journey of humanity. As well as the religious symbolism of Easter the idea of becoming new is very potent, the idea of being born again and beginning afresh.

The word Easter comes from a Germanic word that is cognate with “east”, and therefore with dawn, pointing to the spirit of new beginnings which Easter represents. Benjamin Disraeli coined the term for celebrating Easter, so however you’re Eastering this weekend there are no shortage of literary works inspired by Easter to keep you company.

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Faulkner took the title for this novel from the Macbeth speech where Macbeth laments the futility of life being a “ tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

It opens inside the mind of the “idiot,”Benjy Compson, a 33-year-old man who has the mind of a small child. More than any other modern masterpiece Easter is pivotal to the novel’s architecture and plot. Three of the four parts of Faulkner’s magnum opus are set on the Easter weekend of 1928, with the final part occurring on Easter Sunday. In the novel, several characters experience parallels with Christ’s death and/or his resurrection. Friday’s narration is by Jason, the cruel, sadistic male heir of the Compsons whose malevolence is in stark contrast to Christ’s forgiveness and love. Holy Saturday marks its narrator Benjy’s birthday as he turns 33; Jesus Christ died at age 33. Benjy may be seen as a Christ figure, cast aside as an idiot and made impotent by modern society. The deaths of Quentin and Mr Compson, the loss of Caddy’s virginity, and the deterioration of the Compson family may all be viewed through the lens of Christ’s death and resurrection.

A segment of Sunday’s narration, often known as “Dilsey’s part”, although not narrated by her, is set in a church of African Americans rocked by a moving sermon about the resurrection. This segment crystallises the goodness of Dilsey, who reflects Christian principles demonstrated by Jesus: strength, courage, and love. In the end, readers must decide for themselves if there is any redemption for the Compson family.

Resurrection by Tolstoy
This is Tolstoy’s last novel and perhaps his most controversial. Published in 1899 it is a scathing indictment of injustice, corruption and hypocrisy at all levels of Russian society. The story of Prince Dmititi Nekhlyudov’s journey to redeem a past guilt, Tolstoy’s storytelling genius bring to life this unjust world.

Tolstoy never did anything more delightfully infectious in fiction than the scene of the Easter service in the village church, where the young hero and heroine, after the traditional Russian greeting “Christ is risen”, exchange kisses with the carefree rapture of mingled religious exaltation and dawning affinity for each other. “Everything seemed festive, solemn, bright, and beautiful: the priest in his silver cloth vestments with gold crosses; the deacon, the clerk and chanter in their silver and gold surplices; the amateur choristers in their best clothes, with their well-oiled hair; the merry tunes of the holiday hymns that sounded like dance music; and the continual blessing of the people by the priests, who held candles decorated with flowers, and repeated the cry of “Christ is risen!” “Christ is risen!” All was beautiful; but, above all, Katusha, in her white dress, blue sash, and the red bow on her black head, her eyes beaming with rapture.”

Easter Parade by Richard Yates
Joan Didion considers this “Yates’s best novel”, even better than Revolutionary Road, which was made into a film by Sam Mendes starring Kate Winslet and with Leonardo DiCaprio. The Easter in Yates’s novel is not one that is a portend to renewal and rebirth, it is an Easter that is a watershed moment in the lives of two girls Sarah and Emily. Sarah dresses up in “an expensive dress of heavy silk” and a “ broad-brimmed hat of closely woven straw” to take part in New York’s Easter Parade . As she is driven uptown by her handsome fiancé, her younger sister Emily watches on giddy with the promise life holds. The New York Times photographed the couple and the camera “had caught Sarah and Tony smiling at each other like the very soul of romance in the April sunshine, with massed trees and a high corner of the Plaza hotel just visible behind them” . The novel ends during a Springtime decades later, the story of the girl’s lives and loves delivered in exquisite prose by this master storyteller. Yates has an unflinching eye for the human capacity for self-delusion and for excavating a bleak beauty from life’s tragedies. Yates has been described as the Flaubert of the Eisenhower years; he peeled away the veneer of postwar plenty and saw the empty chasm beneath.

Unkept Good Fridays by Thomas Hardy
Innovative in his use of stanza and voice, Hardy’s poetry, like his fiction, is characterised by a pervasive fatalism. In the words of biographer Claire Tomalin, the poems illuminate “the contradictions always present in Hardy, between the vulnerable, doomstruck man and the serene inhabitant of the natural world”. Hardy’s Easter poem eschews the traditional religious Easter poems in this tribute to the “unpenned.. nameless Christs”, “men whom rulers slew/ For their goodwill.” This poem commemorates victims of torture and oppression who have no Good Fridays to remind the world of their suffering and death.

East Coker by TS Eliot
The Easter theme of this, the second of Eliot’s Four Quartets, is especially prevalent in the fourth section, a short lyric which casts Christ as a “wounded surgeon” – wounded because of the crucifixion, but a “surgeon” who carries the cure for all of humanity’s ills. Eliot wrote East Coker in 1940, against the background of the second World War and the Blitz.

Lead Us Into Temptation by Breandán Ó hEithir
Set during the Easter weekend of 1949(the date of the declaration of the Irish Republic )in the university town of Baile an Chaisil, a thinly disguised Galway, the novel immerses the reader into the bawdy world of Martin Melody, a pub-crawling university student and his student side kicks. The novel was published in 1976 as Gaeilge as Lig Sinn i gCathú, a rebellious challenge to the pious Lord’s Prayer. Breandan O hEithir’s fictoir will strike a chord with any one who lived the student life with his depictions of odious landladies, crackpot academics and clergymen. After a particularly indulgent session on holy Thursday night Martin and his dig’s room mate Billy are awoken by the landlady Mrs Anderson, who had already been to morning devotions, the stations of the cross, had visited the cemetery and a session of scandalmongering in her sister’s house. She’s hammering on the door screaming: “In the name of God, boys, are you trying to bring the curse of the Almighty down on my house? For God’s sake, get up quick! It’s gone one o; clock. Get up and show some respect for the Passion, the Divine Thirst and the Crucifixion.” This reader could well imagine the divine thirst that Martin and Billy were experiencing and could empathise with the misery they endured on that long Good Friday.

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis
CS Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the opening novel of the Chronicles of Narnia series and is widely regarded as its highlight. Lewis felt that some of the religious stories of his childhood lacked the creative spark to invite an “imaginative welcome” to the Christian faith. Lewis wanted to rewrite the religious stories of his boyhood and imbue them with a fantastical, magical feel. Religious symbolism plays a major role in the Chronicles of Narnia.One of the best examples of this symbolism is Aslan, the noble lion of Narnia. Just about everyone agrees that he’s the stand-out character of the Chronicles of Narnia and probably Lewis’s greatest literary creation. Aslan is a literary Christ figure who plays a pivotal role in the story of Narnia, just as Jesus Christ is central to the Christian faith.

Lewis explained in a letter to his friend Arthur Greeves in October 1931, that he set out his story of Aslan as a retelling of the “actual incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection”. The future of this story is assured as it opens up some of the deepest questions of life and points to that the special beauty and wonder at the heart of the universe.

Lewis does not tell us what Jesus Christ is like; he shows us what Aslan is like, and allows us to take things from there by ourselves.

“Let us suppose that there were a land like Narnia, and that the Son of God, as he became a Man in our world, became a Lion there, and then imagine what would happen,” he told a school class in Maryland in a letter in 1954.

For Lewis, one of Aslan’s chief roles is to enable people to discover the truth about themselves.