Power-play versus teamwork. Comradery versus cut-throat ambition. Romance versus rivalries. Ruthless ladder-climbers versus “will-I-ever-be-promoted-ers?” Water cooler gossipers versus “keep-the-fridge-clean!” sticklers - it’s fair to say that the office environment is ripe for all manner of conflict, with the potential to become a heady hotbed of emotion.
While offices can also be edifying environments, plain sailing rarely makes for a good story, as revealed by this collection of 20+ brilliant books that are set in offices.
Bosses from hell treating their assistants like you-know-what crop up a lot, arguably best exemplified by The Devil Wears Prada, and taken to a new level in The Assistants. If you’ve ever wondered what might happen if a bunch of overworked, underpaid assistants decide enough is enough, The Assistants has your name all over it.
Then there’s one of our recent favourites, Several People Are Typing by Calvin Kasulke. Written in the style of the Slack workplace comms channel, our reviewer described it as “Provocative, darkly amusing, and quirky as heck, this book highlights the absurdities of office life with aplomb”.
Dark humour is another prevalent theme of office-based fiction, and brilliantly on show in The Very Nice Box, which takes down hipster corporate culture and toxic masculinity in cuttingly comic style.
The office environment of publishing houses are put under serious scrutiny in The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, Sara Jafari’s People Change, and Jessica George’s Maame. Through very different stories, these novels expose prejudice, white privilege, and outright racism with tremendous verve. They’re also gripping, engaging, utterly of the moment, and driven by characters you’re guaranteed to care about.
Meanwhile, The House of Marvellous Books reveals how offices create the unlikeliest of bedfellows. Set in a small publishing house on the brink of collapse, with a dwindling roster of difficult authors, and cast of endearingly eccentric characters, it tells an entertaining story of a dysfunctional work family, with lashings of human interest.
If you love chilling thrillers, try What Happened on Floor 34, which sees a woman’s dream job as day editor for a major newspaper become her biggest nightmare.
Fans of Mad Men will devour The Best of Everything — Don Draper’s bedtime reading of choice. Written in 1958, it tells the story of a group of young women navigating a new world of office life, replete with lecherous bosses, romances and workplace politics.
More mid-century genius comes courtesy of Lessons in Chemistry. Set in 1951, it’s a funny, feminist Mad Men set in the workplace worlds of science labs and TV studios.
Finally, we also loved Clare Chambers’ Small Pleasures. Set in suburban Kent in 1957, its protagonist’s articles on domesticity for a local newspaper have something of the Carrie Bradshaw about them, albeit without any in-your-face sex in the city.
Keep browsing below for our run-down of some of the best books set in offices.