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December's Under The Covers Book

December's book of the month
translated by Polly Barton


A young woman walks into an employment agency and requests a job that has the following traits: it is close to her home, and it requires no reading, no writing, and ideally, very little thinking. She is sent to a nondescript office building where she is tasked with watching the hidden-camera feed of an author suspected of storing contraband goods. But observing someone for hours on end can be so inconvenient and tiresome. How will she stay awake? And – perhaps more importantly – how did she find herself in this situation in the first place? As she moves from job to job, writing bus adverts for shops that mysteriously disappear, and composing slogans for rice cracker wrappers that generate thousands of devoted followers, it becomes increasingly apparent that she isn’t searching for the easiest job at all, but something altogether more meaningful…  


After facing workplace harassment, Kikuko Tsumura quit her first job after ten months. This experience inspired her to write stories about young workers, and she has since won numerous Japanese literary awards. There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job has recently been awarded a Pen Translates Award for 2020, and is her first novel to be translated into English. She lives in Osaka. Polly Barton is a translator of Japanese literature and non-fiction. Her work has appeared in Words without Borders, Granta and The White Review. She was the winner of the inaugural JLPP International Japanese Translation Competition in 2012, the 2016 Kyoko Selden International Translation Prize, and the 2019 Fitzcarraldo Editions Essay Prize.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          


Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata My Year of Rest and Relaxation – Ottessa Moshfegh The New Me – Halle Butler Before the Coffee Gets Cold – Toshikazu Kawaguchi Uncanny Valley – Anna Wiener Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 – Cho Nam-ju Not Working – Lisa Owen The First Bad Man – Miranda July Such A Fun Age – Kiley Reid Trick Mirror – Jia Tolentino



  •  ‘I didn’t want to have any more feelings about my work than was strictly necessary. I was done with all that.’ At the start of the novel, the narrator states that she wants a job with no reading, no writing, and ideally, very little thinking. What do you think has prompted her to come up with this set of criteria? As the novel progresses, what do you learn about what she really wants?
  • There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job is set in Japan, and has been translated into English from Japanese. In what way is Japanese culture prominent in the book? How similar are the novel’s societal issues to those in the UK? Can you tell that it was not originally written in English?                   
  • ‘Once I got started on this job’s bad points I could have gone on forever, but of course it had its perks too. For example, the amount of time I had to spend talking to my colleagues was extremely minimal.’
  • This novel was written and translated before the coronavirus pandemic, which has dramatically changed the face of the working world for millions of people. How relevant do you think this book is in our new global landscape? Did it make you miss your old work routine?                                                        
  • Kikuko Tsumura includes surreal and absurd elements in her writing. Which of these did you notice? Why do you think she has chosen to use them, and what effect do they create?                                                           
  • ‘I felt like what I was doing actually mattered. I had never imagined that such a feeling was even possible in a job like this.’
  • The narrator works in several different jobs over the course of the book. Which of the jobs would you most like to do, and why? And which would you least like to do?                                                                                 
  • ‘My confidence in my ability to work, which I had been accruing little by little since leaving university, was now in tatters.’ Throughout the novel, the narrator drops hints about why she left her previous job. What were they? How much do you think the novel is informed by the author’s own experience of workplace harassment?               
  • After finishing the novel, do you agree with the title? Is there any such thing as an easy job?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
And make sure to join in the conversation on our Under The Covers Facebook group!


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