Take Amélie Nothomb’s Fear and Trembling, where a young woman called … um … Amélie finds herself enmeshed in a nightmarish struggle with managers at the baffling Yumimoto Corporation. Her portrayal of Japan’s stiff hierarchies brought accusations of xenophobia, but it’s hard not to empathise with Amélie-san as she becomes entangled in a series of unfortunate misunderstandings that subject her to a catalogue of humiliations. As she looks through the enormous bay window on the top floor, she dreams of “throwing herself into the view”, transforming the mundane act of staring at the world beyond the confines of the office – as thousands of workers do every day – into an elemental struggle, a cataclysmic confrontation of epic proportions.
Another novel which reveals the void at the heart of contemporary working life is Jenny Turner’s Brainstorm. It opens with Lorna “still here” in front of her “large and ugly computer”, but with no idea of who she is or what she is doing there.