Book #60

Amphibian by Christina Neuwirth

Shortlisted for the 2016 Novella Award, Amphibian is set in an office that is slowly being flooded with water following a management directive. It features, among other things, a woman called Rose (who would really like to escape, and would also really like to be better at surfing), a dog (who doesn’t like water), an octopus (who does), and some emails.

I was so grateful to receive an advance review copy of this as I’m unable to attend the launch night. As someone who is embroiled daily in the beige life of a working environment, I knew a story of an office slowly becoming filled with water was something I absolutely could not miss.

Neuwirth immediately pinched me with her satire in two different ways. The first was in discovering the reason for the office’s submergence was staff punishment for low sales. I have extensive management experience in providing incentives for good performance and measures for poor, but forcing staff to work half underwater to boost profit is a cruel and perfect caricature of any measure either myself or a colleague has naively taken. Neuwirth ripping the soul out of all banal management tactics and everyday office etiquette was utterly perfect, and resonated like a shine of glee. Needless to say, the second pinch of satire, a member of management using the phrase “get the synergy going” highlighted how perfectly Neuwirth has nailed this environment, and made me lovingly recall some of the excellent boardroom bullshit phrases I’ve heard over the years.

The characters are incredible in their relatability and reality, with each of them smoothly representing exact copies of people I have in my life, from the successful friend who makes you question your own career choices, to the guy in work who saves your life every morning by remembering to buy the biscuits.

Another area of reality Neuwirth creates is that of being trapped. We’ve all been there – whether it’s trapped in the office when you want to go home, or trapped in your role in general, Neuwirth expands and reinforces this feeling throughout the pages. By turning the office into an aquarium, and giving the staff absolutely no power to change this, nor to escape, the feeling of helplessness is everywhere. That the situation doesn’t shock the characters as much as it should, and that the measures management take to ‘help’ – such as nailing the keyboards to the desk to stop them floating around – is completely akin to standard business norms, albeit on a slightly less aquatic scale.

My only real complaint here was that, despite my attempts to savour the novella, I ploughed through like a woman possessed in a mere few hours. I could have read about snorkel-wearing employees working alongside an errant octopus for far longer.

Amphibian is only a small cup of Neuwirth’s talent, but having read this and also her piece in Nasty Women, I am very excited to read anything else her cutting and hilarious mind comes up with next – thank you for allowing me to read this before release date, it’s been a big wet pleasure.