Set a few years ago now, Nyla Nox’s first part of the intended trilogy Graveyards of the Banks takes place shortly before the 2008 big crash. Her narrator is a humanities student fallen on financial hard times (see anyone without a bank/IT job living in London), who with her last pennies in her pocket is sent by an employment agency to a training session and tryout at what she calls throughout the book “The Most Successful Bank in the Universe”.
A modern-day Boschesque purgatory
We follow our frail and fragile humanities student through her first shifts and on through the book as she stays and stays. She always works the night shift – the graveyard shift – and these nights spent doing some vaguely definable, endlessly repeated task under the beady eye of her shift supervisor turn into a modern-day Boschesque purgatory.
uses what little bit of power she has in life to manipulate and punish her underlings according to her whim
The atmosphere, brilliantly brought to life, is one that almost any temp worker in any one of today’s metropolises knows. The zero hours contracts, the threat of being not asked to come back constantly hanging over you, the never knowing if you’ll still have the job and the rent paid the following month, and in the grips of a small-minded little Hitleress, who uses what little bit of power she has in life to manipulate and punish her underlings according to her whim, egged on by her fawning coterie of sycophants.
Tiny interwoven worlds of powerplays and intrigues
As the tale is told, as we burrow deeper into this unrelenting nightshift world of the Greatest Bank in the Universe, night after night, the bankers brutalising the admin bosses, the admin bosses brutalising the admin staff, the admin staff brutalising their hopes of returning to the normal world one day, tiny interwoven worlds of powerplays and intrigues, we experience the terribly poignant moment when the narrator describes the victory that is being finally allowed to wear a pair of in-ear headphones, one ear in, the other dangling, while she works, which only the older hands are allowed to do…with that and the wonderful description of waiting to see which chocolate snack she will choose from the vending machine in her one longed-for ten minute break, we experience with her that feeling of having your world reduced to a microcosm of petty visciousness.
The pathetic gratitude of finally winning horribly minor victories
Rather than relying on major dramatic moments to carry across the power of the story, it’s the death of a thousand cuts: a steady, minute chipping away of sensitivities, of sensibilities, of defences, of any sense of normality, together with the pathetic gratitude of finally winning horribly minor victories that make the story and its main character get slowly but inexorably under your skin.
A hugely apt and relevant tale for us right now
I’ve worked in similar jobs in my time, and I know from experience how the lowest-common-denominator work world can slowly take you over, where people you know from the alternative universe, the normal world in which you used to live, have no comprehension of how these small petty rules and the small petty powermongers come to exert such a hold over you, to the point where that world becomes your normality. It’s an awful world, and in this day and age it’s one which all too many of us either end up in, or end up going through. It’s rampant capitalism’s ugly underbelly, and that makes this story a hugely apt and relevant tale for us right now.