“It really is shocking to me,” claims newly-hired Trevor Kershaw, “how many people claim to be readers but have never picked up ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’.”

He flings his arms up and looks around himself in a gesture of bewilderment.

“I mean, you’ve got time to catch up on what’s happening in politics, you’ve got time to do your laundry, yet you haven’t managed to make time for Marquez’ instantly timeless deconstruction of romantic tropes.”

On the other side of the staffroom, Eliza Quinn looks unconvinced.

“So, it’s that guy’s first day at work, right?” she begins, lowering the lid of the photocopier and jabbing a button. “He comes in here and introduces himself and sees my book on the table and he’s like ‘Who’s reading Siddharta?'”

“So I owned up to it and he started giving me this spiel about Samsara and the understanding of enlightenment. All well and good. I mean when you start work at a new place, you’ve got to break the ice somehow.”

Eliza flips pages in the resource book and places it back down on the glass.

“Then he starts asking me if I’ve read these other books. Things fall apart? He asks me. Yeah, I say. Madame Bovary? Again, yeah. Then he starts tapping the table and biting his lip. Confessions of a Mask? Turns out I’ve read that too, because my old flatmate who I used to share with couldn’t fit it in her suitcase. At this point he looks kind of panicked. I could see he was trying his luck with …Cholera but it’s true, I haven’t read it. Just never got round to it. Heard it’s good, I say. Then he just launches off into this ten-minute speech about how great it is.

Eliza jabs another button on the copy machine, flaring her nostrils.

Asked what she plans to do next, her lip curls into a bitter smile.

“It is his first day, so I’m inclined to give him a break. However,” she says, taking the book from the glass and turning back to her desk, “if he wants to get into a fight I’ve got some ammunition of my own. Do you reckon he’s read Weep not Child? What about The Genji? Somehow I doubt it.”

At the time of going to press, Kershaw was clearing his throat in preparation for another screed, having established that Ania Kushnit, who was putting the flashcards in order, had never even heard of Gogol’s Dead Souls.

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