The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada (transl. David Boyd): Busy doing nothing

Cover image for The Factory by Hiroko OyamadaI enjoyed Hiroko Oyamada’s Weasels in the Attic this time last year, ending my review saying that I was keen to explore more of her writing. Originally published in Japan in 2013, The Factory is set in the world of work. Despite the increasingly surreal thread which runs through the novella, it struck a chord with me, reminding me of working for large organisations, way back when, whose machinations were often a mystery to me.

At the factory, I wake up, eat breakfast, walk around, maybe ride around on the bus, grab lunch at the usual cafeteria, take another walk, go back home to work on samples or plug data into the computer. Then I eat dinner, take a bath, go to sleep, and get ready to start the whole thing over again.

Three new employees are taken on at the factory. Yoshiko has a patchy CV, failing to get the job her brother’s girlfriend had nominated her for, instead given a temporary contract shredding documents for which she is ridiculously overqualified. Furufue has been put forward by his university advisor for a position researching green roofing for the factory. He’s handsomely rewarded, given a house to live in on site and told to take as much time as he wants on a project on which only he is employed. Unbeknownst to her, Yoshiko’s brother has lost his job saved from unemployment by his girlfriend who has found him a position as a proofreader at the factory. The job is routine, far below his capabilities and puzzling: many of the documents make no sense and some are very old but it’s his job to process them and hand them back. The factory is vast, seemingly endlessly expanding, bisected by a river over which fly large black birds which seem mysteriously to multiply.

If these are all factory documents, what the hell is the factory? What’s it making? I thought I knew before, but once I started working here I realised I had no idea.

Each of the three employees tells us their story in alternating narratives. We never learn what’s made at the factory, what the purpose of their jobs is, and nor do they. Each day is much the same as the previous one underlining a feeling of purposelessness that many of the employees come to accept. There was one point at which I felt it was losing its way, but Oyamada rescued her story with its ending. I suspect this fable like novella will irritate as many readers as it pleases, perhaps depending on their occupation and experience of the workplace. It hit the spot for me. Furufue’s project, which he knows is unlikely to have much practical outcome, reminded me a little of working as a systems analyst at a large multinational, long ago, when nothing came to anything much, but money seemed no object.

Granta Books: London 9781803510538 128 pages Hardback

18 thoughts on “The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada (transl. David Boyd): Busy doing nothing”

  1. Interesting, though this is just the kind of organisation/set-up that I’d stay away from. It might be frustrating not knowing the bigger picture even if this is what each of the cogs would experience.

  2. Pingback: #NovNov23 Week Five: New To My TBR! | The Intrepid Angeleno

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