As we look for new fiction to entice us, Olivera Mitić brings us some of the best reads on existential things.
It seems that, throughout history, contemplating the banality of existence in literature was a rather male-dominated field.
In recent years, however, the lack of female voices talking about dread, disorientation, confusion and anxiety when faced with the absurdity of the modern world finally seems to be disappearing.
Having paved the way with the monumental Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath has opened Pandora’s box and introduced us to a new, thrilling genre finally reaching its prime more than half a century later.
“To love truth means to endure the void,” wrote French philosopher Simone Weil and it is exactly this sentiment that prevails throughout some of the most exciting contemporary and literary fiction releases written by women that have hit bookstores in the past decade.
It’s time to say goodbye to the Mary Sue characters we’ve all grown bored with and embrace the raw, blunt, intimate worlds of difficult girls trying to find their way through life. If you don’t know where to start, this might be the spot for you.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation: Ottessa Moshfegh
Moshfegh’s 2015 debut novel Eileen set the tone for the many dark and twisted stories we should be expecting from this author in the future.
Returning three years later with a bang and publishing My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Moshfegh introduced us to the quintessential bizarre existential crisis novel we didn’t know we needed.
Following an insomniac on her way to achieving a year long state of hibernation with the help of sleeping pills misuse, this novel is an ode to unlikable, yet relatable, female characters wanting to start over.
It’s a satirical tale, as funny as it is depressing, packed with so much honesty that at times it feels like looking into a mirror and wondering how we should feel about that.
Milk Fed: Melissa Broder
In the world of literature, author Melissa Broder is most well known for that disturbing fish book which quickly got the attention of her audience.
Milk Fed, her sophomore novel, on the other hand, is an exploration into a different kind of trauma brought upon by the often violent pressure of beauty standards put on young women.
Fierce and shameless, Broder crafts a paradoxically harsh yet vulnerable main character going into battle against eating disorders, a toxic relationship with her mother, religion and, ultimately, stigmatised love.
Milk Fed is the kind of book that punches you in the gut only so you can feel like you’re not alone. And you truly aren’t.
Exciting Times: Naoise Dolan
Putting Sally Rooney on a list of millennial fiction titles is a rather easy way out.
So, instead of doing that, the spot goes to Naoise Dolan and her novel Exciting Times. Often compared to Rooney and her effortlessly simple yet poignant writing style, what Dolan brings to the table is a young woman running away from herself all the way from Ireland to Hong Kong.
It’s an atypical coming-of-age story, featuring indecisive and indolent characters and their different journeys through the uncertainty of one’s own future, sexuality and class struggles.
Narrated with the gift of razor sharp wit, Exciting Times is a one-sitting type of read that tells you it’s okay that you don’t know where your life is going at the moment.
My Dark Vanessa: Kate Elizabeth Russell
Another breathtaking work of fiction which leads you through a woman’s state of mind in its most authentic and unpolished form is Kate Elizabeth Russell’s debut, My Dark Vanessa.
Dealing with the themes of sexual misconduct, student-teacher relationships and the misuse of power, Russell’s homage and deconstruction of Lolita is a must read in a post #MeToo world.
Showing the different nuances, implications and consequences an act like this can have on a girl in her formative years, My Dark Vanessa provides a much needed voice to trauma survivors who might not have been aware of the extent of the abuse they had gone through.
This is a novel about coming to terms with difficult emotions and the possibility of change, no matter how hopeless or unpredictable the present might seem.
Severance: Ling Ma
Reading apocalyptic books during a global pandemic has the potential to be a two-edged sword. While it can certainly leave you in a state of panic, it can also offer you some kind of shoulder to cry on.
It’s exactly in the fear and ambivalence of its character, in the familiarity with catastrophe and in the utter relatability where Ling Ma’s Severance shines like no other.
Offering a glimpse into a maybe too near and too familiar future, Ma’s first book is an exploration of life in capitalism, immigration and survival in both literal and metaphoric terms. It’s a tale of nostalgia that simultaneously pushes you into an eerie, science-fiction-esque reality, following a female protagonist who, just like each and every one of us, struggles through 21st century problems without a true solution in sight.
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