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I am no stranger to pitfalls of corporate work. I have experienced everything from verbal abuse, sexual harassment, and discrimination to then watch it all get covered up by HR and middle management. You could say I might be a little jaded when it comes to my opinions on corporate life, but then that wouldn’t even scratch the surface.
I came across Eliot Perlman’s novel in my first few weeks of moving to Melbourne. I wanted to read something Australian and preferably something local. When the local bookstore mentioned it would be up for their next book club meeting, I bought the book and signed up for the event.
Perlman’s book can be described as the sort of dark, bleak comedy that you only get after year’s of the system wearing you down. The dark comedy hinges on the relationship of the main protagonist, Stephen Masenov, his wife Elanor, the HR professional Jessica, and the strange lawyer, Betga. Tied up in the plot of the novel is sexual assault and harassment charges at Torrent Industries, which is described as a ludicrously profitable construction firm.
Woven between this Me Too narrative is a vicious and often hilarious attack at corporate capitalist offices with everything from open-plan offices, hot-desking, and collegial competition being mocked. If you have ever felt your job has eaten into your personal life, or perhaps that your personal life no longer exists then this book might bring you comfort in knowing that you aren’t the only one pissed-off and tired.
Perlman offers up a lot of food for thought throughout the novel. It feels at times like not just a novel, but a long rhetorical question for the reader. Especially when he talks about the hatred of our jobs, coupled with our complete financial dependence on them.
“Most of them are absolutely terrified of losing a job they absolutely hate.”
“White collar wage slaves,” as Perlman calls many of the characters in his book appear to be living the dream. They did everything right: finished school, got into law or business at university, graduated, and then worked their way up the corporate ladder. This dream promises us fulfilment at the end of it, but most of us are wondering what the heck we were thinking.
Perlman’s book will not make you comfortable, but you will get some Schadenfreude and snickering in.
“You need to understand that there are now just two kinds of people in this city, the people who are relegated to selling crafts by the side of the road—called consultants—and the people who still have the option of not buying those crafts.”
What Australian literature are you loving at the moment? As always, share the reading love.
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