The Politics and Poetics of the Women’s Millennial Workplace Novel: The Trope of Burnout in Kikuko Tsumura’s There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job (2015) and Ling Ma’s Severance (2018)
“The “burnout novel” is flourishing” stated Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett in her piece in the Guardian, 15 May 2021. Cosslett is certainly not the first reviewer who recently noticed a resurgence in contemporary fiction, mostly written by women, on the discontents of contemporary work culture. Exploring the politics and poetics of the contemporary women’s burnout novel, I will address the extent to which literary burnout in women’s contemporary workplace novels is a trope belonging to an aesthetic of ‘capitalist realism’ – reconfirming it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism – or a catalyst of an imagination of a more sustainable, possibly more caring world, that lies beyond the end of capitalism. Analysing Kikuko Tsumura’s There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job (2015) and Ling Ma’s Severance (2018) I will address how current scholarship on the contemporary culture of overwork, stress, and burnout could benefit from ideas of care (work) and studies of capitalism’s care crisis in recent cultural theory and women’s literature, which have thus far been largely side-lined, or not properly considered.