...[a] sharp, self-deprecating comic debut ... Not Working is written as a series of microsections ranging from a couple of lines to a few pages ... These are often very funny ... but the randomness can make the book feel as desultory as Claire’s job search. Some of the observational comic material is overfamiliar ... as are the types of supporting character we know so well from Bridget Jones: forbearing boyfriend; mild father; overbearing mother; mean posh girls with toned arms who will get their comeuppance. But what marks the book out is its delicately understated portrait of everyday uncertainty ... Owens cleverly intertwines the incidental humour of everyday life with...raw, painful subjects that – like Claire’s search for fulfilment – are often too big to face.
Quick-witted and sharp-tongued, lovable and flawed, Claire is a super narrator that readers will easily connect with. Her predicaments are at once universal and unique. Owens isolates her narrator not only from the working world but also from her family, in a subplot that is traumatic and yet bizarrely funny ... The storyline is sensitively handled; Owens steers clear of melodrama, presenting instead two sympathetic sides for the reader to assess ... Not Working is a gem of a debut, a delayed coming-of-age of a woman who stops to consider life’s big questions through humour ... With her warmth and insights, Claire is a more intelligent Bridget Jones ... In the novel, the relationship between Claire and her boyfriend Luke is laugh-out-loud funny ... The convincing banter between the pair sees even their most intense arguments take a comic turn ...With her eagle eye on human behaviour, her inquisitive mind and her attraction to random trivia and detail...Claire’s ideal job should be clear to the discerning reader.
Claire is a sympathetic narrator, despite sinking under the pressure of a life that seems unfathomably frivolous to her family ... There are sharp observations about generational change, particularly on the topic of work ... The novel is a light read but it raises some timely issues ... Existential angst experienced by those finding their way in professional life is nothing new ... What is unusual about this novel is the absence of work. But, more than this, female protagonists grappling with their careers have traditionally been less well served by authors; work is usually eclipsed by romance ... This book offers a form of catharsis for anyone who has felt that they are not quite doing their job right. It may not deliver any answers, but it is soothing to find you are not the only one noodling along in your career.
Its charm is that it is apparently all so entirely familiar. It’s no mean feat to fashion a novel out of the stuff of everyday life: a modestly happy relationship, a nondescript London flat, a minor existential crisis. It takes quite a writer to make such material interesting enough to fill nearly 300 pages – and, fortunately, Owens is quite a writer ... It reminded me a little of Jenny Offill’s Dept of Speculation, which interwove a narrative of relationship breakdown with quotations, reflections and facts. This technique has an affinity with the scattered distractedness of the internet age, and I have mixed feelings about it as one does about the age itself. Although it does capture something of the texture of life now, this comes at the cost of the sort of immersive experience I want from a novel ... But Not Working works (sorry) because there is lots going on beneath its placid, ordinary surface ... From the publicity around this book, it’s clear that the publishers would like Owens to be declared the voice of a generation. It would be lovely if that were the case, as her voice is funny, gentle and forgiving. But I’m not sure. I finished the book feeling that the situation demanded a little more anger and edge. With this funny, serious debut, Lisa Owens has proved that she’s one to watch. In the follow-up, I want to hear her roar.
While this book is both witty and funny, there's really no other reason to read it: the structure is a collection of discontinuous scraps in the first person, scraps that say little about the world or humanity, and there's no plot to speak of and no character development at all. Claire has no job, worries about trivia, and can't finish Ulysses. These things go on happening for 270 pages. The model for this novel seems to be Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones books, with which it shares an authorial assumption that a first-person narrator who is also a floundering ditz is somehow irresistibly charming, but it lacks both the singularity of Fielding's characters and the forward movement of her plots.
...Owens uses quick, sharp vignettes to move us through Claire’s London, so we’re never asked to wallow with her main character for too long. These sketches have the added benefit of giving us snapshots of Claire’s interior struggle ... To her credit, Owens deploys a deft sense of humor to help us laugh at the incongruities of contemporary upper-middle-class crisis. In Owens’ hands, even Claire’s long-overdue visit to a dentist results in a misunderstanding that sums up the shame, absurdity, and hopefulness of the overskilled, underemployed worker. Since Claire already has Luke, Owens frees her character from the constraints of the marriage plot haunting similar rom-com titles like Bridget Jones’s Diary ... While her privilege never quite catches up with her, this hapless protagonist will leave younger readers laughing—and wincing—in recognition.