I’m not used to finding erotica on BBC Sounds, but if it comes alongside searing commentary about how modern work culture crushes young people’s dreams, I suppose it’s justified. Careering, the recent novel by the award-winning journalist Daisy Buchanan, now adapted for radio, is all about being in a toxic relationship – with your job. But it’s also about a society that mines young women for their most salacious personal stories, encouraging oversharing under the guise of feminist empowerment.
Imagine The Devil Wears Prada updated for Gen Z. Twenty-something Imogen lands her dream job at what is supposedly a fierce and feminist online media start-up. Only, instead of fashion reviews and lifestyle tips, what she’s mostly told to write about is her sex life: the kind of raw, overly honest explorations of intimacy and ambiguity that are heralded as bold and inspiring yet feel somehow exploitative at the same time. Her account of a threesome goes viral and before long she’s being sent to fetish parties and naked speed-dating, and invited on TV to debate sex positivity in an outfit designed to appeal to “every woman who has ever had a sexually confusing experience and wants to wear nice trousers”. No one asks if this is the type of journalism she wants to do. After all, everything is copy.
The book has been beautifully adapted into ten 15-minute episodes for radio, read by Ellie White as Imogen and Ruth Everett, who plays Imogen’s world-weary boss, Harri. It’s full of humour and tenderness, with real laugh-out-loud moments in between wry observations on journalism. But ultimately, I’m not sure what Careering is trying to say. Evidently the world of glossy women’s magazines is no utopia, but it’s unclear if Imogen is meant to regret baring her sexual soul for clicks, even as it launches her career. Similarly, should we feel guilty for being entertained listening to it? And if so, why did the BBC have to make it so entertaining?
This article appears in the 17 Aug 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Six Months that Changed the World