The factory

by Hiroko Oyamada

Other authorsDavid Boyd (Translator.)
Paperback, 2019





New Direction Books : New York, 2019.


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 modern workplace.… (more)

User reviews

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 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.
… (more)
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 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 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 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.… (more)


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