top 6 novels about work

How do you summarize six novels in under 350 words? Like this, apparently.

Modern-day troubadour Beck once said “I ain’t gonna work for no soul-sucking jerk”. Bemoan your office-drone fate with the following fine reads.

Don Quixote (1499) – The first acknowledged novel in the English language is about a dreamer who lands his dream job – literally. Having overdosed on a diet of cheap romances, the Don decides to become a knight errant. He spends five hundred pages getting beaten up.

North and South (1855) – Elizabeth Gaskell tells the story of Margaret Hale, a young middle-class woman who finds herself sympathizing with the plight of mill workers in northern England. Impoverished and uprooted, the workers’ lives are ruled by infernal machines that occasionally strip stray limbs from the careless.

Bartleby the Scrivener (1856) – Herman Melville captured the alienation of urban office life with this novella about the forlorn Bartleby, who deflects all requests for work with the evasive reply “I would prefer not to”.

The Jungle (1906) – Do you worry that your lean ground beef may contain a small percentage of factory worker? The Jungle is a stirring story of Lithuanian immigrants who come to Chicago looking for a better life. At the risk of spoiling the plot, a better life is not what they find. Upton Sinclair’s exposé pushed reforms that led to the regulation of the meatpacking industry.

Work Is Hell (2004) – Pardon me. Are you suggesting that a collection of Matt Groening comic strips about white collar wage slavery is any less worthy of inclusion on this list than a novel? Well fie on you, sir. I’ll give you a good glove-slapping in the town square.

Then We Came to the End (2007) – Set in a Chicago ad agency at the crest of the late ‘90s tech boom, Joshua Ferris’ novel is narrated by a collective “we” of office drones. As the recession sets in and layoffs tear away at the corporate body, the “we” shrinks to an anxious, paranoid core. One of my favourite new novels of the last few years.