We’d Prefer Not To: Novels about the Misery of Work

ferrymanThis week marks the release of The Ferryman Institute, Colin Gigl’s excellent debut novel about an immortal tasked with escorting the deceased to the afterlife. Spoiler alert: supernatural jobs can be filled with just as much drudgery as terrestrial ones.

Gigl’s the latest in a long line of Anglophone novelists who’ve tackled the misery of work. Here are ten great ones, linked to their Booklist reviews when possible. (I’m not going back more than 20 years, but if you haven’t read Bartleby the Scrivener—or seen the amazing 2001 film adaptation with Crispin Glover—or John Ashbery’s “The Instruction Manual,” please get your life right.)


 The Assistants, by Camille Perri

A huge hit this spring, Perri’s novel deftly and humorously follows the trials of, well, assistants, with a Millennial pedigree.

Blue Angel
by Francine Prose

Academics have problems, too—particularly when they’re besotted with their creative writing students.

shopaholic The Circle,
by Dave Eggers

The tech world is terrifying, man.

Confessions of a Shopaholic
by Sophie Kinsella

A woman combats the ill-feeling she gets from her terrible job at a terrible magazine by going into debt. :(

The Devil Wears Prada,
by Laura Weisberger

You can’t have a list of books about miserable jobs without this book on it. You just can’t. Sorry.

Kings of Infinite Space, by James Hynes

An English professor falls from the ivory tower into a temp job, where some of his colleagues are demonic and others are dead. This is one of the funniest books I have ever read.

personal-daysPersonal Days,
by Ed Park

Park’s debut novel about office life, told in the first-person plural, had the terrible luck of being published around the same time as Joshua Ferris’ massively popular debut novel about office life, also told in the first-person plural. I thought it was the better book. Quieter, certainly, but also more humane. Oh well.

 Then We Came to the End,
by Joshua Ferris

Well this was a juggernaut, wasn’t it?

The Shape of Things to Come,
by Maud Casey

Anyone who’s ever temped will love this comic novel. It starts off with the protagonist getting fired for photocopying her breasts, and only gets better from there.



About the Author:

Eugenia Williamson is the Associate Editor of Digital Products at Booklist. She worked in bookstores for twelve years, reviews books for The Boston Globe, and writes about books, culture, and politics for several other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @Booklist_Genie.

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