Book review: Not Working by Lisa Owens

Many people spend the majority of their waking time working, so you want a job where you’re happy, and challenged, and where you feel like you’re making a difference.

But what if your work just isn’t living up to expectations? (If my boss is reading this, I love my job, we’re not talking about me here.) If your work isn’t working for you, if you don’t have an answer to the question ‘what do you do?’, what, well, do you do?

In Lisa Owens’ Not Working Claire Flannery quits her unsatisfying job, determined to grow as a person and ultimately find her calling. But instead of getting ever closer to finding out what it is she wants to do, Claire finds herself distracted with all the little and big things in life, from how to deal with an infestation of buddleia to a death in the family that leads to a breakdown of the relationship between Claire and her mother, to accepting her best friend’s (seemingly personality free) new partner.

Everyone knows a Claire, or is a Claire, making Not Working a relatable read when it comes to the issue of work, and what we do (or don’t do). Claire has free time, and freedom to pursue what she wants, which seems fine in theory. But when she is faced with friends who all seem to be happy and fulfilled with work, it’s difficult for her to see the joy in her situation. It’s a classic case of the grass being greener on the other side.

Owens is a star when it comes to observing the minutiae of life, and most people will find something in the book that makes them say: “Oh, I do that.” For me, it was this tiny tidbit:
Not proud of the fact that when crossing the road, I use fellow humans as a buffer from the oncoming traffic, but there it is: that’s the sort of person I am.

Yep, that’s me.

But while I enjoyed the overall experience of the novel, I fully connect with Not Working, and I didn’t feel deeply invested in Claire, who is in a comfortable enough financial situation that she can give up her job, who has a kind and loving boyfriend who’s a doctor, whose family is fairly middle-class. Sure, she isn’t happy in her job, but she’s also not spending all day on her feet doing 12 hour shifts in a fast food outlet to make ends meet. It sometimes felt a little hard to sympathise with Claire (who is privileged in many, many ways) especially when she found herself in trouble, because that trouble was mostly of her own making.

But the work stuff is good, and there are plenty of fun and funny moments, with the second half of the book finding the stride missing in the first half. This is very much a novel for today’s 20-somethings, for the Girls generation, for those who are fans of Lena Dunham. That’s not me, I feel a bit old for that world, but I think Not Working will find a huge audience, and its voice is one that many will read and love.

Not Working is released on April 21, 2016.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Picador. This did not affect my review.

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