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Work in books
Himadri's blog talked of Primo Levi's short novel The Wrench which has work as its theme. I was wondering what other books had work as a major part of it. I thought Levin's portrait in Anna Karenina was strongly based on his work, how it could be carried out to best fit his ideals, character, and his workers. I think it also formed a contrast with other characters in the book whose work seems rather peripheral or not shown in much detail.

The book I am reading at the moment, Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, has work as one of the main aspects of the main female characters. They are trying to get by farming or subsisting on a farm, and Frazier has concentrated a lot of his detail on how nature works and how farming works with nature.

I think work was important in the Forsyte Saga and Buddenbrooks, though there it is business work rather than physical work. What other books can you think of based round or themed on work?

Cheers, Caro.
Work in books
I've just read for my book club David Lodge's "Nice work"which deals with the worlds of industry and  University.  It is centred on a work shadow scheme.

A lot of Zola's novels take us into different work environments.
Work in books
That blog post - on The Wrench by Primo Levi - was actually an expanded version of a post I'd first put up here.

It struck me reading thatbook that although a great many of us spend aa large proportion of our lives at work, thi sis omething that rarely features in fiction. To quote myself:

Here, he [Levi] addresses a theme rarely addressed by fiction: work. Usually, in fiction, we are either shown people wealthy enough to not have to work; or we are shown people whose work is exciting, or made to appear exciting (soldiers, detectives, etc.); or we are shown characters during their non-work hours. The truth is that most of us we spend a large proportion of our lives at work, and this is an area that fiction barely touches on at all. People at a desk doing paperwork, analysing data on PCs, mending gas pipes, taking blood samples in clinics these are usually considered too dull to depict.

There are exceptions, of course: Tolstoy focuses on Levin's work, in a number of chapters that I find fascinating, but which readers unsympathetic to Tolstoy's artistic aims often find dull. And yes, Zola spends much time both in Germinal and La Terre exploring the characters' working lives.

But the truth is that work is dull: even when people enjoy their work, depiction of it is  likely to appear dull to the general reader. This is perhaps why it is so frequently shoved into the background in most fiction.
Work in books
I couldn't read this topic without thinking of 'Moby Dick': on one level, that wonderful book is a detailed description of life on a whaling ship, an environment where work is totally integrated into life. Melville not only gives us incredibly detailed descriptions of the roles of the various crew members and the processes involved in catching and dealing with the carcasses of the whales, but he also treats us to what can hardly be seen as less than hymns of praise to the craftsmen, such as the carpenter and the blacksmith, who exercise their trades on board ship. The language is often poetic, but there was never any doubt in my mind that Melville was talking about real work, with all its tedium and hardship, as well as recognising the qualities of those who were involved in it.
Work in books
Yes, agreed fully: Melville describes the work of the various crew members in great detail - not just the exciting bits  such as hunting whales, but, as you say, the day-to-day grind. And it amounts to, as you put it, a "hymn of praise". But it's interesting, isn't it, that these are precisely the passages that those unsympathetic to the novel complain about?
Work in books
Mention of Moby Dick reminds me of a more recent example: BS Johnson's Trawl (1966), which describes in a fair amount of detail the work of a trawler crew.
Work in books
Glad someone has started something here, as I was thinking about that after reading Dorothy Whipple's High Wages, about a very young and poor girl who manages to set up a dress shop.

Yes, daily work is often boring but its dramas also provide a lot of the interest in our lives.  I like to read novels that feature work or a workplace setting in some way, and get irritated by fiction that floats along on a cloud that pays no attention to economic realities.

Slightly off-topic, I often think that the over-emphasis on Westminster politics and infighting that features so much in our UK news is because it is the "office dramas" of a little coterie of journalists and ministers. They wouldn't want to be bothered with our little workplace fracas and jealousies but over- inflate the public interest in their own. I know theirs do have influence on our lives, but even so could do with less hysterical attention on it and would rather they looked more at the bigger political picture.

Back to topic - I loved reading about all the farm work done by the two struggling women in Cold Mountain; that was the most interesting part to me, how this work and food storage was really survival. I think Tim Winton's books are often about work or working people's day to day lives, as he sets them in working-class Australia for the most part - fishermen, farmers, police, paramedics all come up. Anne Tyler also has people at work, often in strange jobs, certainly in her earlier books, and so does Jane Smiley. Good Faith is about real estate agents, and Larry in Larry's Party starts out as a florist. There are lots of novels featuring academics, but I suppose that goes with writing these days - the day job of many authors like Lodge and Bradbury.
Work in books
Thanks, Mike & Green Jay, for that: they are interesting examples. The fact does remain that the work most people do is boring - at least to those who don't do that work. For instance, much of my working time is spent of extracting data, doing statistical analysis, etc. Is it at all possible to present that kind of thing in fiction and make it appear interesting to a general reader? I'm not talking about office drama - i.e. conflict between people working in an office: I am talking about the actual work. It's not really surprising that writers of fiction tend to keep away from that sort of thing.
Work in books
It sounds exactly the kind of thing Ian McEwan would write about.
Work in books
I wouldn't agree that portrayal of work in novels is boring - like Green Jay it was the working lives of the women's work on the farm and the detail of how they went about ensuring the crops were in and growing etc that was the most interesting part of Cold Mountain.  Likewise for me Levin's work was the best part of Anna Karenina. (Though I am not quite sure how it worked with the other themes and characterisation of the novel, for all that. Apart from Levin's himslef, of course.)  And the details of the working lives of people in any upstairs/downstairs book is also fascinating.  Perhaps this is often the interest of a historical knowledge of things no longer done.

But nothing in a novel is completely separate from the drama surrounding it or the characters it affects.  The details of travel, work, clothing, geography, farming, the sea, whatever are all used to portray the characters or the themes or how the background has impacted on people.  So I don't think it is quite valid to separate the work details from the dramatic ones.  They fit together or they should.  That is what I am enjoying about Cold Mountain - the details aren't just there for their own sake (though perhaps a little too often they are and I could do with a few less), but to show the life people lived, the harshness of that life generally and how that makes people fearful, quick to react, or very concerned with their own survival.  Survival is a major theme of this book and the farming parts fit with that.  

Likewise in The Forsyte Saga which I admittedly haven't read for a long time.  The work there fits with Soames' character and his concern with it shows his limitations as a lover and a person.  And the failure of the business and work life in Buddenbrooks seems to mirror (and bring about) the gradual downfall of its characters.  

Cheers, Caro.
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