I don’t quite mean “the best novel,” rather I mean “the best novel as a novel of bureaucracy.”
There is Franz Kafka, but I find his writings more theological and fantastic than insightful about bureaucracy per se. Besides, his short stories are his best work and the novels do not have proper endings.
There are post-war Eastern European novels galore, where to start? In the First Circle? Still, communist bureaucracies are no longer so typical, so I am not ready to award any of these novels first prize. Gogol’s earlier Dead Souls also stands out as a Russian candidate.
Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is in the running, as are John Le Carre, Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace. Here is a discussion of Dickens, Orwell, and other classics. Here is a jstor-gated survey of the topic. There are plenty of novels about universities, very few of which I can endure.
The Chinese have an entire genre of “bureaucracy literature.” And perhaps bureaucracy in science fiction is deserving of its own post.
In any case, my clear first choice pick is Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers, which I started reading a few days ago. Here is the first sentence of the Amazon.com review:
This 1857 sequel to The Warden wryly chronicles the struggle for control of the English diocese of Barchester. The evangelical but not particularly competent new bishop is Dr. Proudie, who with his awful wife and oily curate, Slope, maneuver for power.
So far I am finding that just about every page has insight about bureaucracy. Trollope, by the way, had extensive experience working for the Post Office in England and Ireland, and furthermore he missed out on a major promotion.
What else am I forgetting?