Claire Flannery has quit her job in order to discover her true vocation - only to realise she has no idea how to go about finding it. Whilst everyone around her seems to have their lives entirely under control, Claire finds herself sinking under pressure and wondering where her own fell apart. 'It's fine', her grandmother says. 'I remember what being your age was like - of course, I had four children under eight then, but modern life is different, you've got an awful lot on.'
Funny, sharp, tender and brilliantly observed, Not Working is the story of a life unravelling in minute and spectacular ways, and a novel that voices the questions we've all been asking ourselves but never dared to say out loud.
Not Working by Lisa Owens was published by Picador in hardback on 21 April 2016.
"6pm on a Thursday, and while I may not have applied for any jobs, I have made myself eligible to win a Mini Cooper, two nights in Paris and seven in Miami, £500 of vouchers for a Scandinavian clothing brand, an enormous TV (which I plan to sell on), an espresso machine (which I'll definitely keep), tickets to three exhibitions, a case of Prosecco, a juicer, a designer handbag, a designer coat, a meal for two at a corporate-looking restaurant in the city including a cocktail on arrival but no wine, membership to an independent cinema franchise and a VIP package for two at a female-only day spa, so no one could argue it's been a completely wasted day."
I have spent the past couple of days trying to smother my snorts of laughter as Lisa Owens describes in frighteningly accurate detail some of the things that flit through my brain on a regular basis. Most of us will have, at one time or another, dreamt of handing in our notice and spending some time 'discovering' who we really are. We'll think of all of the things that we'd do with our spare time, before embarking upon a career that really does mean something. We'll get fit, we'll organise our wardrobe, read the unread books, listen to the music, watch the box sets and visit our family. We'll then start out again, fresh and reinvigorated, to become the person we just know is hiding inside.
Yeah right...... Just like Claire Flannery, I too can promise myself that today I WILL fire up the laptop and organise my finances, complete the outstanding paperwork, reply to emails and tidy up my blog. And, just like Claire Flannery, I can find myself three hours later having done none of those things but knowing much more about the ancient medicines of China, how to make a new bag from an old bag, the secret of eternal youth and a sure-fire way to earn millions of pounds in the next seven days. Damn that internet!
Claire Flannery finds out that not working is actually much more difficult and tiring than working. Things that she didn't have time to notice when she spent five days a week commuting to a job that didn't inspire her seem to take on such an incredible importance. Her dreams become more vivid, her relationship with her family begin to break up rather than to get stronger, her friends don't really understand and the jobs websites are uninspiring and quite alien.
Having time on her hands makes Claire look more closely at her seven-year relationship with trainee brain surgeon Luke, and she begins to panic. Does she really want a new career, or is it time to have a baby?
Lisa Owens has structured Not Working brilliantly in a series of short, sharp chapters that look at the minutiae of life through the eyes of a woman who is struggling to deal with life in the rat-race. Her observations are funny and completely on the mark, there is a tenderness to Claire's character combined with a vulnerability that makes her one of the most wonderful lead players of any book that I've read recently. In short, I adore Claire. She's comic, honest, totally down to earth, not afraid to follow her dreams, but afraid of what this might mean. She's not beyond backing down when she realises that she's wrong, she's as close to perfection as a fictional character can possibly be.
Not Working is skilfully written, it's beautiful and it's so so honest. I love it.
My thanks to the team at Picador who sent my copy for review.
Lisa Owens was born in 1985 and grew up in Glasgow and Hertfordshire. After reading English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, she spent six years working in publishing.
In 2013, she completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.
She lives in London with her husband, the actor and comedian Simon Bird.
Follow her on Twitter @lamowens