The factory

by Hiroko Oyamada

Other authorsDavid Boyd (Translator.)
Paperback, 2019


Checked out
Due Jul 23, 2024


New Direction Books : New York, 2019.


Fiction. Literature. HTML: The English-language debut of Hiroko Oyamada�??one of the most powerfully strange young voices in Japan The English-language debut of one of Japan's most exciting new writers, The Factory follows three workers at a sprawling industrial factory. Each worker focuses intently on the specific task they've been assigned: one shreds paper, one proofreads documents, and another studies the moss growing all over the expansive grounds. But their lives slowly become governed by their work�??days take on a strange logic and momentum, and little by little, the margins of reality seem to be dissolving: Where does the factory end and the rest of the world begin? What's going on with the strange animals here? And after a while�??it could be weeks or years�??the three workers struggle to answer the most basic question: What am I doing here? With hints of Kafka and unexpected moments of creeping humor, The Factory casts a vivid�??and sometimes surreal�??portrait of the absurdity and meaninglessness of the mode… (more)

Media reviews

"A noteworthy young female writer with a distinctive voice."
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Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Oyamada expertly weaves in a series of strange phenomena creating an atmosphere of unease bordering on pernicious. As the mundane and the uncanny blend together, Oyamada maximizes her puzzle. This nonpareil novel will leave readers reeling and beguiled."

User reviews

LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
The factory is a sprawling institution in a parklike setting in an unnamed Japanese town at which many of the townspeople work. This novella follows three workers who are hired at the factory at about the same time. Yoshiko is a college graduate, but this is her fifth job, which doesn't bode well
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for her career path. Instead of a permanent position, she is offered a contract position in "staff support." She will spend her days shredding paper. ("document destruction"). Furfue was a post-grad student studying mosses when his faculty advisor practically forces him to take a position at the factory. He is hired to convert the roofs of all the buildings at the factory into "green roofs," something he insists he knows nothing about. He advises his superiors that he only knows how to classify mosses, and doesn't know any practicalities. He is told to take his time and learn. He is the only employee in his department, and spends his days walking around the campus identifying different mosses. He is well-compensated. The final employee we meet is a temporary employee in the document division whose job is to proof read documents. The documents are inane, don't appear to relate to anything (no one knows what the factory makes) but the job must be done.

Although Kafkaesque and absurdist, this is all related in a straightforward manner, at least until the end. I actually quite enjoyed this.

Some quotes:

"Maybe it's not such a bad thing to have a job you can master from the first day."

"From my second day on the job,...I never had to use a single brain cell."

"Who wrote this stuff? For what audience? To what end? Why does it need to be proofread at all? If these are all factory documents, what the hell is the factory? What's it making? I thought I knew before, but once I started working here, I realized I had no idea. What kind of factory is this?"

3 stars
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LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
The factory is vast and all encompassing. Between its northern and southern components — joined by a huge long bridge over the river that flows through the factory — it has everything from countless restaurants, theatres, a bowling alley, numerous bus lines, some on-site accommodation, and
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more. So it’s perhaps not surprising for someone to find through the vagaries of life’s accidents that they end up working there. This novella follows three such characters: a young woman who gets assigned contract work as a document shredder, an engineer who is forced to take on a temp work assignment as a proofreader, and a botanist who is directed by his university supervisor to apply for a post at the factory as a bryologist (a moss specialist). None of them have ever really wanted to work in the factory, but here they are doing jobs that they are not entirely suited to. Still, it’s a living.

There is a matter of fact tone to the writing as we follow chapter by chapter the different factory lives of these workers. Things are sometimes a bit strange. But not so strange as to be alarming. Just a bit worrisome. However, over time (and time is a factor here), their engagement with the factory becomes more nuanced. Or stranger. And there’s something odd about the fauna.

This was an intriguing scenario. The writing reminded me of Magnus Mills crossed with Kafka. So, a bit alienating. Yet it was also a series of finely drawn portraits of these characters as their own existential anxiety comes to dominate their self-perspective and their relations with others. Not too surprisingly the various story lines cross before the end, but they do so in ways that are unexpected. And Oyamada also has a very curious manner of dealing with the dialogue, occurring at different times, yet mingled in the same paragraph. It forces you to periodically stop what you are doing and figure out who is saying that and when. Clearly deliberate, but to what end? I liked it.

Gently recommended for those willing to take on something just a bit out of the ordinary.
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LibraryThing member flying_monkeys
Weird, surreal, very good! While reading the boy's report on the factory's wildlife, I thought, Wait -- what's the point of all this information?!! But it made sense in the end.

I can't wait to read the author's next one, The Hole, published by New Directions in 2020.
LibraryThing member kewing
Contemporary Japanese literature is laced with existential surrealism, sometimes verging on the absurd. The Factory is one of the better examples. Three characters, each written in the first person, work at more or less meaningless jobs at a factory that is essentially the city where they live and
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work. One character proofreads factory documents, another shreds factory documents (the one proofread by the other character?), and the third searches for and catalogs mosses for the factory. The three characters come into contact with each other; each finds their work meaningless, but continue the work. Is this a parable of post-modern society? Nonetheless, compelling reading.
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LibraryThing member evano
WTF just happened?
Interesting world, some funny moments, but...
I'm not sure if it was fully translated -- no shade on the translator -- but...
WTF just happened?
LibraryThing member widdersyns
It has that distinctively Japanese writing style, which I like. Very little happens in this novel, which is a statement in itself, but I just didn't enjoy it that much. I don't think it's objectively bad, it just wasn't for me.
LibraryThing member Dreesie
This novella is eerie and a little creepy, as we follow three employees of The Factory. When hired, they are all happy to have a job--but once they start doing it, they become confused. Why has this not been automated? What happens to their work once they are done? How is their performance to be
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measured, who do they report their progress to, what is the point?

I found the ending confusing and really wish I had someone to discuss this with.
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LibraryThing member stillatim
A needlessly challenging first few chapters, but once you get into the flow, this is a funny, disturbing book about going to work.
LibraryThing member viviennestrauss
What a fantastic book! I couldn't put it down.
LibraryThing member greeniezona
This was one of my Book Riot Tailored Book Recommendations, so I checked this out from the library.

I had mixed feelings on this one, honestly. There were parts of this that really worked for me and parts that did not. I enjoyed the creepiness of the massive, ineffable bureaucracy of it, the sense
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that the factory had become so large that the right hand no longer knew what the left hand was doing, and certainly none of the temp or contract workers did. I liked the weird ecology of the factory, the moss hunts, etc.

BUT.. there were certain plot points that felt like they were supposed to be twisty that I saw coming miles away. The conclusion felt a bit rushed. Most of the time I was reading it I was enjoying it, but I felt let down by the ending. I would definitely try another book by Oyamada in the future, though!
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LibraryThing member Carlie
This short novel is about a factory in Japan. This factory dominates this region of the country and so many people work there, it is like a city unto itself. The reader is introduced to four characters, each speaking in first person in their respective chapters. First is a temp worker whose job is
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to shred documents. Second is a proofreader whose job is to correct documents. Third is a researcher who was hired to work green the roofs of the factory buildings. The last character is the factory, grounds, and evolutionarily questionable wildlife that lives there.

As each worker learns their jobs and roles within the community, the tone of the novel becomes more disorienting. The paragraphs are very long, and the dialogue is mixed in with characters’ thoughts so it can be difficult to decipher where one character ends and the next begins. As the days, months, and years go by, each worker must grapple with what they are really doing there. Their jobs are evermore pointless as the time goes and nothing comes of it. There are no fruits of their labors.

The writing style evokes a stronger feeling than the actual story. Not much really happens. The reader is led to be as confused and muddled by what is going on as the characters. Strong messages of Marxism leaves one questioning the meaning of labor.
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LibraryThing member thisisstephenbetts
Very interesting, Kafkan novel. I'm sure I'm missing some cultural context and reference (though that is the case with Kafka sure).


Original language



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