Working as back-office staff for a car company based in Hiroshima, Hiroko Oyamada once mistook a used printer cartridge for a cormorant. That single episode inspired her to quit her job and write The Factory. Originally published in Japanese in 2013, it was her first novel, though it is not the first one to be translated into English. An elegant and often funny sketch of 21st-century corporate life, The Factory captures the lives of zero-hours workers who never learn each other’s names, the partitioned open-plan offices with makeshift walls in which they work and their ‘muffled, manmade air’.
Three narrators map the industrial space: Ushiyama, employed to shred documents; her brother, a former ‘systems engineer’ making ends meet as a proofreader; and Furufue, the scientist tasked with ‘greening’ the entire site, a project ‘more or less impossible’. Work has little meaning. ‘What I thought of as my everything