Met Onder kantoortijd waagde Lucy Kellaway zich buiten de gewaande paden van chicklit-land. Maar hoewel het boek geen doorsnee chicklit is, is het boek tóch een fijn boek om de standaard boeken over shoppen en mode af te wisselen met wat serieuzere lit. In deze column vertelt Lucy hoe ze tot dit verhaal is gekomen...

Offices are pretty peculiar places. We spend the biggest part of our working lives in them, doing all sorts orderly, repetitive things that don’t come natually. They are the last places on earth you would think that sex - let alone love – would flourish.
Yet if you believe any of the stats, two-thirds of workers have had sex with a colleague, and one in ten have had an affair with a boss. It is happening all around us – but features surprisingly little in novels. All those commuters who travel to and from work on trains and Tubes may have hearts filled with complicated yearnings towards a colleague - but they have their noses in novels about love in Greek leper colonies, or the court of Henry VIII.
I wanted to write a novel that looks at what happens when the most forbidden love flourishes. I wanted the office not to be a mere backdrop for a love story, but to play a starring role itself, the focus of both the personal anguish as well as the professional calm.
When I started on this project a couple of years ago I thought I was going to write a comedy. I was excited by the slapstick possibilities of office affairs - the ludicrous Christmas parties, the scope for double entendres and misapprehension, the CCTV cameras and misdirected e-mails – all of which surely lead to a novel as funny as a Carry On film.
Yet the more I looked into it, the darker the humour became, and the less I was laughing. In researching the book I found a handful of women, each of whom had had an office affair, and who, after a good deal of coaxing and promising that I wasn’t going to spill their secrets, told me all about it. They were all different, apart from one thing: all six affairs ended badly. Not one walked off into the sunset with her workplace lover hand in hand.
As I thought about the stories, what interested me was the madness of it all. With one throw of the dice, these women were risking absolutely everything: their jobs, their home lives and their reputations. What I was dealing with was less a comedy than a mystery. Why do people fall in love with colleagues? And why do they take such big risks? I chose to base my story on two women in the same office, one a twentysomething PA at the bottom of the pile, the other a woman at the top of it, a fortysomething economist who is about to join the board. The first has a traditional affair with her boss; with the second, the balance of power is reversed and the powerful woman has an affair with a young trainee.
Neither of the men they fall in love with is particularly handsome: the older man is balding and with a belly, the young man has awful pale eyelashes and wears bad suits. Many of my early readers complained that they wanted them dishier, to fill the part of the romantic hero. But I held firm. To have handsome hunks in the novel would be to miss the point about the peculiar alchemy of office love. The first reason love flourishes at work is proximity: two people are holed up together for most of the waking hours of the day. They are brought together both by shared interests – and by boredom. Power, as everyone knows, is an aphrodisiac and so is taboo: to have sex with a married boss is the greatest aphrodisiac of them all – even if his belly is on the large side.
But all these reasons still don’t fully explain why sensible people are willing to risk so much. The real answer is that an office affair works like a drug. Neither of my characters set out to have one. Indeed it was something that they would have been horrified to find that they were capable of. They were lulled into it, thinking it harmless and that they could handle it, only to find themselves head over heels and quite out of control.
Once in, their ability to read risk was quite distorted. They simply did not believe that they would be caught. They did not believe it would end badly and that the secret world would be prised open.
Half of the women I talked to did get caught. And they all got caught in the same way: discovery of e-mails. That very thing that made the affairs seem so secret and so safe – the private little bubble of messages silently sent to and from –was in the end their undoing…

Lucy Kellaway

Onder kantoortijd

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    Stella Bradberry en Annabel Chambers werken allebei voor Atlantic Energy, een oliemaatschappij in Londen. Annabel is een jonge, alleenstaande moeder die haar opleiding niet heeft afgemaakt en nu gedoemd is als assistent te werken voor mannen die stuk voor stuk maar half zo intelligent zijn als zijzelf. Stella is twintig jaar ouder en staat op het punt toe te treden tot de raad van bestuur. Voor haar geen glazen plafond. Zij is moeder van twee kids, een multitaskende power woman en nog aardig ook. Iedereen bewondert haar en vindt haar verstandig, dus wat bezielt haar om een affaire te beginnen met een man die ze buiten kantoortijd nog geen blik waardig gegund zou hebben?

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