#SheReviews Emergency Exit Only By Michelle Upton

February 20, 2024

There are undeniably millions of folk in the workforce, around the globe, who are firmly entrenched in jobs they are miserably unhappy in. The spectrum of job dissatisfaction can range from disliking, but being stoically tolerant of the workplace in which one is situated, to vehemently loathing one’s job to the point of a veritably compromised life.

Sometimes one can resort to spectacularly quitting one’s job when pushed too closely to the ‘cliff’ (aka ‘too far’) at work. And the subsequent results can be joyful and life-affirming, or a leaden let down and embarrassment.

Such onerous perplexities and dazzling possibilities are beautifully and captivatingly examined in stellar Brisbane author’s, Michelle Upton (she moved to Australia from England in 2006), sterling and classy novel, Emergency Exit Only.

Our protagonist is the inwardly fragile and socially diminished Amelia Harris, a thirty-five year old accountant for Queensland Office Supplies and resident of Victoria Point, “south of  Brisbane”.

Amelia has toiled stoically away at Queensland Office Supplies for the past ten years. It is a job she is delicately obligated to do, she feels, as she has trained and worked hard to have the position she now haves. After all, it pays the rent (Amelia shares a house with her best friend Brooke, a diligent writer for Australian Adour, a women’s magazine covering various subjects) and her bills, but Amelia is distinctly uninspired day to day by her job duties (these include using outdated and unreliable software).

When Amelia has a near-fatal altercation with a scooter outside her go-to coffee shop, whilst trying to get away from her gossiping and snide (or is she?) work colleague, Maureen, she finds herself (unenviably) in the Emergency Department of Redlands Hospital.

Prior to leaving hospital, Amelia’s seemingly always dependable boyfriend, Scott, harshly and ceremoniously ‘dumps’ her. Finding herself on a relentless conveyor belt of misfortune, Amelia has the additional burden (or is it?) of having to move in with her hippie-like mother, Toni. Toni is as arty as Amelia is boxed in inside the white-collar world of sometimes dull enterprise. Toni hasn’t been the most financially reliable mother. She needs to borrow money from Amelia on a fairly regular basis, and attempts to stay afloat by selling her earing jewellery at Cleveland Market on the weekend.

Amelia’s dad, Robert, passed away in a skydiving accident when Amelia was eight, according to the significant elders in Amelia’s life (Toni and Amelia’s fabulously wealthy and outlandish Aunt Donna, a clothes designer and boutique owner).

Robert had been a gardener for work and avid painter in his free time. Amelia misses him terribly.

When Amelia has a full-blown and verbally explosive tirade towards her co-workers at work one mundane day, after her accident, and abruptly quits, it appears Amelia has either made a colossal and irretrievable mistake, or she has opened a pandora’s box of endless possibilities.

With apparently nothing to lose, Amelia decides (on Toni’s suggestion) to try a variety of jobs as an unpaid worker, to see where her ambitions and even passions may lie. So we see Amelia stepping way out of her insular comfort zone to become a trial florist at Bulimba Blooms, a writer for Adour magazine, a coffee shop waitress at But First, Coffee, a primary school prep teacher’s aide, an assistant to a wedding planner, a deckhand on a fishing charter boat and a worker at a coastal kayak business, among other positions.

Will Amelia ‘fly’ with her new work enterprises, or will she come crashing down to earth? Is there a job out there for Amelia? Should she have ‘sucked it up’ and stayed at her uninspiring but secure accounting job?

Will Amelia’s irritating (to her) work colleagues (Maureen, Craig, Gary and Luca) ever find it in their hearts to forgive Amelia for accusing them of atrocities and failings?

What lies in the future for Amelia’s tentative friendship with Pete, the ‘water cooler guy’ from Queensland Office Supplies? Can they truly be friends after he knows about her work tirade? Can they even by something more?

What really happened to Amelia’s dad? What has Toni (and Donna for that matter) been keeping from Amelia?

Is Amelia ever going to have the life she truly wants?

Emergency Exit Only overflows with intelligence, wisdom and clever and highly accurate insights into human nature and the human psyche.

Themes of grief, hoarding, obsessive/compulsive disorder, social isolation, fear, insecurities, courage, family relationships, friendship and romance are explored authentically and expertly.

This is such an uplifting (if at times sombre and even dark) read. If you need great lashings of hope and inspiration in your life, this is the book for you. Amelia is an unlikely heroine (She has fearfully and cautiously closed herself off from the world. For instance in her office job, she will never accept her workmates’ numerous offers to go out for lunch with them). Yet she is a heroine nonetheless.

Aren’t the real heroines and heroes  those who are fearful yet try in life and embark on adventure?

Bravo Michelle! You have really knocked it out of the ballpark with this one.

I loved every page of Emergency Exit Only and I can’t wait to read Michelle’s next book!



Your chance to read Emergency Exit Only

Emergency Exit Only Kindle – $12.99

Emergency Exit Only Paperback – $16.00



Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.