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Personal Days Paperback – 7 May 2009
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"As much a novel of pitch-perfect comic vignettes of working life, Personal Days is the ideal book to read under the table during the next staff training seminar. Park has strayed into Ricky Gervais' territory and may soon be its king" (Observer)
"The funniest novel of office life in decades... A must-read" (Daily Mail)
"Anyone missing Joshua Ferris' Then We Came To The End should pick up this novel" (Esquire)
"Park's wry look at lives ruled by unreliable computers and bad coffee speaks volumes about the choices we make in the name of ambition" (The Times)
"Personal Days is amusingly spare, yet soon becomes something darker, aspiring perhaps to the unblinking horror of Joseph Heller's corporate schlub epic Something Happened" (The List)
Ever wondered what your boss does all day? Or if there is a higher - perhaps an existential - significance to Microsoft Word malfunctions? This astonishing debut is a scathingly funny look at a group of office workers who have no idea what the unnamed corporation they work for actually does. When it looks like the company may be taken over, fear of redundancy unleashes a deliciously Kafkaesque plot full of the tedium and mistrust of corporate life and the backstabbing bitchiness of our survival-of-the-fittest instincts. We meet Pru, the ex-grad student-turned-spreadsheet drone; Laars, the hysteric whose work anxiety follows him into his tooth-grinding dreams; and, Jonah, the secret striver who must pick his allegiance.Assailed from all sides, Park's idiosyncratic cast of characters battle paranoia, boredom and the complexities of the lunch break as each struggles to figure out who among them is trying to bring the company down - and why.Rich with Orwellian doublespeak, filled with sabotage and romance and capturing the relentless monotony and paranoia of office life with uncanny precision, "Personal Days" is a novel for anyone who's ever worked in an office and wondered, 'Where does the time go? Where does life go? And whose banana is in the fridge?' See all Product description
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Both books are mildly humorous, covering the intricate social world of office life, and both writers adopt the same devices throughout. There are firings, difficulties with computers and "I.T. Guys", thefts of post-it notes, exiled staff in remote corners, nervous breakdowns. People have mysterious personal lives which cause gossip among colleagues. Emails are mistakenly sent "reply all" causing embarrassment. More successful companies threaten take-overs, new management impose new disciplines which the staff spend their time trying to get round, etc, etc, etc (hard to suppress a yawn at this point).
Far from finding these books humorous, they were actually both rather depressing. Jokes about problems with Microsoft Word, or how voice recognition programs come up with funny text are not exactly original and sound better in the real-life context of work rather than written down on the page - we've heard them all before anyway. I used to work in an office and there are things to recognise here, but why on earth would one want to read about it in leisure time having just escaped for the daily commute home? The blurb writers say that this book has "Kafkaesque plot, full of the tedium of corporate life". While totally disagreeing with the "Kafkaesque", the book is certainly full of the tedium of corporate life".
There were too many non-distinct characters in "Personal Days", jokes were spread too thinly, and perhaps this is indicative of American office life but the whole thing was just several degrees less believable to me. The 'big reveal' at the end, all told through one single massive e-mail, is probably the highlight and worth waiting for, but during the first three quarters of the book the complete lack of action or apparent job responsibility by the entire staff seems oddly contrived.
That said it does have some good moments and in parts it's rather sweet. If you work in an office and want some comfort about how bad things could've been, you might relate to this, but it doesn't completely hit the mark.