REVIEW: There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura

In brief: A young woman is looking for a new job after a bad experience. An easy job, one that requires no reading, maybe at a desk, maybe outside. As she tries new jobs, she realises a job is about caring and meaning, not easiness.

The good: Fun, quirky and sweet.

The not-so-good: Left me with a craving for rice crackers.

Why I chose it: I love Japanese fiction. Thanks to Bloomsbury for the copy.

Year: 2020 (originally 2016 in Japanese)

Pages: 401

Translator: Polly Barton

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Setting: Japan

Rating: 9 out of 10

There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job is a delightfully quirky novel that also pulls on the heartstrings with its apt observations on loneliness and fear of failure. It’s wonderfully Japanese, with its mentions of rice crackers, potentially unexplainable events and society over the individual. But most of all, it’s the search by one woman for a job that fits – be it easy, boring, inside or outside.

We never find out the name of the narrator of this novel, but she is willing to share many other things with the reader. After leaving a job that burned her out, she’s ready to start again. Living with her parents, she seeks out a new job. Preferably nothing with too much reading or writing or even thinking. Her employment agency sends her to a rather unique job. Her job is to watch the secret camera feed of an author who seems to do little writing and has an extensive collection of DVDs. It’s long hours and rather repetitive, but it seems to fit – until it doesn’t. She finds herself craving the food and drink the author consumes and it all gets quite dramatic. Perhaps it’s time to move on… As she tries other jobs, such as writing advertisements for a bus route, working in a rice cracker factory, putting up posters and working in a forest, she begins to realise that it’s not necessarily an easy job she’s looking for. In all her jobs, she has helped others – maybe that’s the part that lifts her up?

I loved the different roles that the narrator takes. They are so varied – who knew that writing facts and other titbits for rice cracker wrappers could be a job? The interactions she has with her colleagues and the community add to her journey of self-discovery, as the reader works out that her true calling is to help others way before she does. There are some little magical quirks too – the unexplainable that often pops up in the Japanese novels I read – such as shops magically appearing then disappearing. It’s not a major part of the novel though if you dislike magical realism. There are also plenty of descriptions of Japanese food, from rice crackers to hot dishes and snacks (breadfruit crisps, anyone) that made me wish for some delicious Japanese snacks.

The style of writing is casual, friendly and easy to read as the narrator pours out her work-related heart to the reader. I think Polly Barton, the translator, has really given the narrator life off the page. She’s easy to relate to and it’s oh so easy to miss Japan while reading this novel. It’s still very Japanese, from the devotion to sports teams, the looking out for each other and the almost-cult appearance but this is a story that anyone can relate to. If you’ve ever wondered if there was an easier or more interesting job out there, this is a fun book to read – and might make you grateful that your job is less dramatic.

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