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Top 5 books about faceless bureaucracies, from Catch-22 to The Handmaid’s Tale

Author John D Rutter selects his top 5 books about faceless bureaucracies, featuring Margaret Atwood, George Orwell and Franz Kafka.

John D Rutter is a short story writer whose work has been published in anthologies and journals. His first novel, Approval, won the 2020 Northbound Book Award. Here he lists his top 5 books about faceless bureaucracies.

1) The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Created by one of the greatest living authors, Gilead is a dystopian version of the USA; women are subjugated in a patriarchy with religious undertones. Penned in the Eighties, the novel reflects on attitudes of the time as much as it imagines a different one.

2) 1984 by George Orwell

The archetypal novel about a controlling bureaucracy, and as relevant now as when it was first published in 1949. It gave us Big Brother and doublespeak. Never have media control and the idea that “ignorance is strength” been more dangerous.

3) Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Set during the Second World War and written in the 1960s, Catch-22 is now the phrase for any self-contradicting rule; in this, the number of required bombing missions changes every time the number is met. Contradictions in language expose the silliness of war and any form of absolute authority.

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4) The Trial by Franz Kafka

A century old, this influential novel follows Josef K as he is arrested and tried for unstated offences. From start to end character and reader are bewildered by the lack of reason or logic from authority.

5) The Machine Stops by EM Forster

Imagine a world where every person lives alone in a standard box and only speaks to others through a screen and instant messaging under the control of an omniscient Machine. Life is limited to recycling old ideas. Sound familiar? Astonishingly, this long short story was first published in 1909.

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Approval by John D Rutter is out now (Saraband, £9.99)

@JDPRutter

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