Only a few books this month, mostly a very modern and relevant selection, as well as one mostly set in flashback in the nineties. They all look at some intense situations in different ways and styles, making them engrossing reads for ignoring the sun/World Cup/anything else.
Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton – An emphatic recommendation for anyone who likes literary thrillers like American Psycho or The Talented Mr Ripley, but wishes they were more female-led and up to date. Social Creature presents a New York millenial hell as Louise is pulled into the money- and party- filled world of Lavinia and then things start to go wrong.
Promising Young Women by Caroline O’Donoghue – Another one this month exposing the modern world, as the London workplace is dissected and its effects upon mental health and upholding a male-dominated culture are shown through Jane’s sudden promotion at an advertising job.
Run, Riot by Nikesh Shukla – This is a young adult book that tells the story of twins Taran and Hari and their fight to expose the injustice in the system that is putting them, their friends, and the tower block they call home at risk. It is like a British version of The Hate U Give, showing that YA fiction can highlight racism, gentrification, and police corruption sometimes more powerfully than novels aimed at adults.
Promising Young Women is a witty and timely novel about a twentysomething woman living in London who is driven to doubting her sanity when she ends up involved with an older man at work, feeling like she’s turned into one of the people who submit problems to her anonymous blog. Jane works in advertising and an office party after a pitch starts off something with an older married man, but soon a promotion puts him as her mentor. Power and sex become blurred and Jane at first thinks everything is going well, but soon her friendships, her health, and her career seem to be tumbling down around her.
This novel is like Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends for the London office scene, where young women are forced to battle one another and older white men hold all the power. At first, it is readable for the millenial trash vibe that it exposes, but as the narrative moves forward, it spirals into something darker. Consent, online presence and abuse, and mental health come to the forefront as part of the difficult battleground that young women face. What is notable about this novel, which doesn’t depict a particularly fresh story, is that along with Jane, the main character, there is a whole host of varied female characters, flawed and fighting in an environment where men are holding much of the power.
Promising Young Women is a clever look at the male-dominated office culture world in London. It is also a biting look at mental health in young women and the difficulties of being listened to, taken seriously, and kept safe as a woman. Read it over an overpriced hipster cocktail in a pretentious bar and think about everything that is wrong with the world.