The workplace has long been a rich source of material for writers. A publishing house in Muriel Spark’s A Far Cry From Kensington, the bus depot in James Kelman’s The Busconductor Hines, a Post Office in Charles Bukowski’s novel of the same name, or even George Orwell’s Animal Farm – they are all used to reflect the society and politics of the time. However, the everyday drudgery of modern office life is rarely portrayed in literature, perhaps for the very reason that it is seen as a place where the dramatic is often hard to find.
Christina Neuwirth understands this and subverts it brilliantly with her novella Amphibian. It is the perfect parable for our times, with themes of corporate control, individual apathy and uncertainty, and a general dissatisfaction with modern living, told with wry humour and a gentle surrealism that doesn’t intrude but only enhances the story. Not so much magical realism, more a commentary on capitalism in a modernist style. If Kafka had worked for an Edinburgh finance company this is the book he would have written. Continue reading