Published on May 17th, 2011 | by Jenny Foxe0
Book Review: In Office Hours by Lucy Kellaway
I picked up this book with glee. ‘A funny and moving tale of two affairs…don’t miss’ shouts the cover. What a great excuse to have to read some steamy chic-fic which the Sunday Times declares is ‘Whip-smart and blisteringly observant. Funny, truthful and cracking satire’
And so it begins – at the end; two out of the blue emails to two women from two men who have obviously caused them much heartache and emotional chaos. So far so good. Then it takes us back two years to when Stella is a bigshot economist in Atlantic Energy, a global oil firm, firmly keeping her married home life out of the office because a photo of her child on her desk may reveal a vulnerability which would be used against her in the cut throat oil world. A female colleague is leaving after making a fool out of herself and ‘destroying her life and career in one stroke’ in Stella’s opinion by having an affair with a married colleague. On the same day, Bella, a single mother who works in the press office wonders what will happen to her job now that her boss has left.
The story switches between the two women as the necessary office restructuring leaves Stella in charge of two trainees, one of whom is Rhys, a cheeky young upstart who appears to have no respect for her or the workplace and Bella working under James, a clever but emotionally distant older man. Rhys eventually works his way into Stella’s heart and James seems to bring out the maternal instinct in Bella. They two women embark on disastrous workplace affairs, the married one with a much younger subordinate, the single one, with her older unhappily married boss.
The book quite beautifully and poignantly paints a picture of the confusion, pain, desperation and trauma that an illicit affair can cause to everyone involved. It accurately observes the stark difference in attitudes in the corporate world to a man who has an affair with a subordinate and a woman. It seems when it comes to your career it’s almost expected of men to have the odd indiscretion but a woman is either a golddigger or a cougar and her reputation and career can only be destroyed. The hypocracy and backstabbing nature of office politics from within the secretarial pool right up to the board of management is exposed with no punches pulled.
It’s a well written, easy to read, relatively interesting tale of what seems like terribly clichéd goings on in a terribly clichéd workplace. There are a few thoughtful insights into the workings of the corporate world and the power games and risks that seem to be part and parcel of the environment. There is some decent discussion of the difficulties that face women in the choices they are forced to make between their children and their careers. Unfortunately though, all of the characters seem a little bit pathetic and undesirable, especially the cuckolded spouses and I was left with the overall view that for a novel about illicit affairs there was far too much soul searching and emotional trauma and a disappointing lack of steam.