Taking her place among a growing number of exceptional female writers in Japan, Tsumura deftly handles work habits and relationships, stereotypes and expectations for success, all of which are set against a repetitious, unending search for what is valuable and valued. The novel unfolds as a profound meditation on contemporary society and what makes work meaningful ... part of the novel’s appeal lies in the narrator’s distinct worldview and her deadpan humor that allows the surreal, metaphysical connections in the novel to bubble beneath the surface of her seemingly dull, day-to-day existence ... It’s the kind of novel that presents a swathe of tangled threads, trusting the reader to weave together the connections on their own. After the last page, I immediately started again, excited to unravel the nuances of each section.
The novel, translated into English by Polly Barton, coalesces around five chapters, each based on a new job, but characters and buildings hop around in different guises ... Tsumura’s is an irreverent but thoughtful voice, with light echoes of Haruki Murakami ... As a disquisition on the value of work, the book is uncannily timely — working from home has left many questioning their employment ... Tsumura, who herself quit her first job after workplace harassment, has nonetheless produced a novel as smart as is quietly funny.
The novel is crammed with unnecessary detail, and reading it can also be a job that brings on mental fatigue. But it somehow manages to be consuming. Polly Barton’s translation skilfully captures the protagonist’s dejected, anxious voice and her deadpan humour, as we are lulled into the rhythm of her daily worries and concerns – what to eat, where to buy what – which then hit up against her workplace dramas. Tsumura has produced an imaginative and unusual contribution to a wave of Japanese literature by authors (see also Hideo Yokohama and Sayaka Murata) exploring work culture in Japan.
There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job gives us the minutiae of everyday working life — but not as we know it. Think Diary of a Nobody without the Pooterish self-regard. Or Nicholson Baker’s Mezzanine , freed from lunchtime restrictions ... Tsumura has a sharp eye for the absurdities of white-collar admin, the solace of workplace friendships, the insidious anxieties, and the consoling siren lure of fast food (those Inarizushi parcels and jumbo manju sound irresistible), but the novel is feeling its way into deeper waters ... the novel’s surreal charm wins through, pointing up the looking-glass aspect of the narrator’s world: confronted by what she’s running away from, the fantastical and the ordinary become interchangeable, as she stumbles into what she’s really been searching for all along.
Translated from the Japanese by Polly Barton, the novel, originally written in 2016, uncannily captures our job landscape during COVID — when we have jobs that sit 'on the borderline between a job and not' ... We may also read this novel as Tsumura's 21st-century response to Herman Melville's 'Bartleby, the Scrivener.' While Bartleby resists by staying put, the author's protagonist strives to redefine her professional preferences by submitting to a picaresque array of alternative vocations ... Tsumura eloquently contrasts her depictions of male prejudice with examples of female solidarity ... Polly Barton's British translation, having words such as a total tip (a complete mess); was not half convenient (was very convenient); moreish (tasty); skiver (a job shirker); and put paid to (finish) serves as a weirdly appropriate lens to approach the novel. This double distancing effect — British flavor imposed on a Japanese oeuvre — encourages us to imagine the voice of Tsumura's narrator/avatar as both cheeky and self-deprecating, the perfect balance to wage a stealth feminist revolution.
The protagonist is justifiably sceptical of most of her newfound situations, however mundane they may be, and Polly Barton’s translation transmits this cynicism excellently through witty and matter-of-fact prose. In a way, the precariousness of the woman’s situation is reflected in the writing style itself. Just as she reluctantly entrusts her fate to the recruiter, Mrs. Masakado, and subsequently to her series of employers, the reader never feels completely safe, constantly wary that the story may turn to wander down a sinister path ... One of the major successes of There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job is that it is wry, thought-provoking and full of intrigue, all without the slightest hint of tweeness.
Tsumura has an interesting take on the universal themes of job satisfaction and burn-out, as well as capitalism, beautifully set down within and reflective of the Japanese culture. Centered on an unnamed and quirky, yet likeable protagonist in the vein of literary characters like Eleanor Oliphant or Ove (but more subdued), this story relays the relatable challenge of finding a job that is both devoid of excessive stress yet which will also be satisfying and fulfilling ... Perhaps the greatest accomplishment Tsumura makes here is that of normalising the stress of so many modern-day work environments and creating a space for reflection, both by the narrator and by the reader, on where boundaries should be drawn between our work and home lives ...
Overall, Tsumura’s work probes at a topic not often tackled in literary fiction; a topic well-worth the investigation.
What makes Tsumura’s novel so insightful is her ability to highlight the ways that our jobs unintentionally leech into our personal lives, dragging us into unhealthy investment in even the most pointless elements of the job ... Through the narrator’s experience working multiple, widely-varied jobs, the novel explores how quickly an unhealthy relationship with labor can arise, regardless of circumstance ... For a novel that so deftly explores the complex emotional relationship between work, identity, and the ways that capitalist systems shape how individuals understand the nature of a job, the ending feels a little saccharine. The narrator simply decides that there are no easy jobs, that all jobs will take something from you in some way, and that all we can do, as we try our best, is hope for a good outcome. The unsatisfactory emotional arc feels particularly stale and sentimental in contrast to the vibrant, sharply humorous commentary that Tsumura provides throughout the rest of the novel ... There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job is a smart—and humorous—further exploration into the emotional toll labor can have on individuals in a hyper-consumerist, capitalist system.
Before opening the book I was expecting a collection of slightly dark, slightly comedic workplace nightmares full of vengeful coworkers and lecherous bosses. Instead, I found a compelling read with five very distinct settings spiced up with a varied cast of characters ... Easy Job’s punchy pacing combined with straightforward language makes it a quick but enjoyable read. Although free of fluff, Tsumura’s style includes occasional tendencies to overexplain a situation ... Whether you've achieved job satisfaction or dream of retiring to a hut in the middle of the forest, Tsumura will expand your notion of 'work.'
Originally published in Japan on 2015, this translation by Polly Barton arrives at just the right time, when we are reconsidering what exactly work should be ... The book...is Kafka-like in the way it balances the patently ridiculous with the humdrum ... Tsumura goes beyond the office, to the difficulties of employment more generally. I have never read such relatable writing about the small stresses of working and how they can feel like disasters at the time ... The writing is straightforward and granular, often detailing tasks at length or unravelling the protagonist’s thought processes as she digests her latest office conundrum. It can occasionally feel exposition-heavy, though this does suit the character’s tendency to overthink and get too caught up in work ... It makes for an amusing read, as each fresh attempt to do her job and go home is undercut by another oddball character or strange turn of events. And while entertaining, it gently exposes the idea of work-life balance as a fantasy.
...surreal ... There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job follows several successful books documenting the grinding nature of contemporary white-collar work.Tsumura’s novel does not dwell on the thanklessness of such labour, even if the notion supplies its form. As suggested by the title, the apparent 'easy' nature of our protagonist’s jobs quickly becomes supplanted by supernatural, humorous mysteries ... If the neurotic in the modern 'work novel' is an impotent rebel of their time, rattling about with nervous energy and intent on finding evidence for their specialness that cannot be satisfied by the social conditions of the world, Tsumura’s protagonist embodies the subject that these conditions prefer ... Upon reaching its conclusion, the 'work novel,' can choose to either deliver transcendence for its subjects, or double down on the apparent pointlessness of their condition ... You get a sense that there might be something more, if only you had the energy to look.
There’s a lot to laugh at, relate to, and despair about here, all conveyed in a lively translation by Polly Barton ... This is the first book by award-winning Kikuko Tsumura to be translated into English, and I’d love to read more of her sharp observations.
Kikuko Tsumura is clearly as inventive as her heroine ... Kikuko Tsumura has won awards for her short story writing, and this is her first novel to be translated into English. It is like a linked series of short stories with an interesting Japanese flavour, and her translator, Polly Barton, has done an excellent job, making the text fluent and easy to read without losing its unique character.
In the novel’s final pages, when the author finally reveals what that first career was, all of the narrator’s contract work appears in a different light. It is this conclusion, dramatically shifting the reader’s understanding of the events in the novel, that makes the novel so satisfying. Polly Barton’s engaging and readable translation makes sufficient use of Britishisms—'bloody', 'moreish' for 'tasty', 'skive off' for 'to skip work'—to briefly draw the reader out of a Japanese life and into an incongruously British one ... For all its critique of the modern workplace, the resolution of There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job is fairly conventional. Even while new jobs farther away from her original field, the narrator finds herself doing work more and more like what she trained for. She can’t help doing what she loves any more than she can help doing her best, even when she has resolved to do mindless work.
Tsumura’s droll wit is so subtle it’s almost imperceptible. It’s the kind that challenges the reader to pay close attention to the nuances at work beneath the narrative. When strange occurrences begin to tail our hapless narrator, the book takes on an unsettling quality but also that of a cozy mystery. To say the least, it has a strange, almost calming effect, like the serenity that comes from building out a perfect spreadsheet.
Tsumura’s sharp English-language debut follows a woman’s search for fulfillment in an all-consuming late-capitalist Japan ... Tsumura’s rendering of a millennial besieged by anxious overthinking and coping through deadpan humor and sarcasm rings true. As the monotonous and fantastic collide, Tsumura shows that meaning and real intrigue can be found in the unlikeliest of places.