Business fiction

The New Year has started strongly on BBC Radio 4, with several thought-provoking programmes:
Last week In Business examined why so few novels are set in the world of work, and attempted to explore the consequences for both business and society. As presenter Peter Day said “fiction normally shuns the working world or is deeply suspicious of it”. He wanted to investigate “why creative types don’t respond to this thing called work”.
Fiammetta Rocco, literary editor of the Economist, was interviewed and expressed a feeling I’ve had for a long time:

“We’ve really lost that sense that business is about progress and doing good. There’s no sense of that anymore. It’s very, very hard when people don’t feel strongly about something to create fiction out of it.”

Peter Day then pointed out that:

“The way business is presented to people is part of the culture. If decent people think that it’s not a subject that engages the imagination, or the intelligence, or the humanity of themselves, and don’t go into business, then you kind of get the second-raters all joining up for it. So we need decent artistic representation of the business world.”

However, the hottest tip of the year came from Rocco:

“We do review a lot of fiction in the Economist. We review it every single week and I’m always looking for great books. But a book that really told a story that developed a fantastic hero, that armed itself with this person’s struggles and fears and difficulties and problems and triumphed in the end, in a business setting would be truly fantastic. I think that one of the enormous difficulties that exist now is that we’re more comfortable with the idea of business than we may have been in the 19th century, and that makes it much harder to explore, it’s a much bigger challenge to create something which is subtle and interesting and not a caricature. Somebody should do it.”

So there you go. There’s still time for one more New Year’s resolution — write a great novel about business. For inspiration, here are a few of the authors or novels mentioned in the programme:

  • Hard Times by Charles Dickens.
  • The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope.
  • Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos.
  • Nice Work by David Lodge.
  • Free to Trade by Michael Ridpath.
  • Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe.