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.