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Promising Young Women

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For readers of THE COWS, SWEETBITTER or CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS - as well as for fans of FLEABAG or SEARCH PARTY - Caroline O'Donoghue's debut is a gothic, darkly witty novel about sex, power, work and being a young woman in a man's world. "I don't know why it never occurs to me to ask for more: to be taken to dinner, or to be given a promise, or at the very least, an ex For readers of THE COWS, SWEETBITTER or CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS - as well as for fans of FLEABAG or SEARCH PARTY - Caroline O'Donoghue's debut is a gothic, darkly witty novel about sex, power, work and being a young woman in a man's world. "I don't know why it never occurs to me to ask for more: to be taken to dinner, or to be given a promise, or at the very least, an explanation of why things aren't working out with his wife. I know exactly what Jolly would say: I know because I've written words to mistresses before. Hundreds of them." On the day of her 26th birthday, Jane is recently single, adrift at her job, and intrigued by why Clem - her much older, married boss - is singing to her. Meanwhile her alter-ego, the online agony aunt Jolly Politely, has all the answers. She's provided thousands of strangers with insightful and occasionally cutting insights to contemporary life's most vexing questions. When she and Clem kiss at a party, Jane does not follow the advice she would give to her readers as Jolly: instead she plunges head-first into an affair. One that could jeopardise her friendships, her career and even her life.


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For readers of THE COWS, SWEETBITTER or CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS - as well as for fans of FLEABAG or SEARCH PARTY - Caroline O'Donoghue's debut is a gothic, darkly witty novel about sex, power, work and being a young woman in a man's world. "I don't know why it never occurs to me to ask for more: to be taken to dinner, or to be given a promise, or at the very least, an ex For readers of THE COWS, SWEETBITTER or CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS - as well as for fans of FLEABAG or SEARCH PARTY - Caroline O'Donoghue's debut is a gothic, darkly witty novel about sex, power, work and being a young woman in a man's world. "I don't know why it never occurs to me to ask for more: to be taken to dinner, or to be given a promise, or at the very least, an explanation of why things aren't working out with his wife. I know exactly what Jolly would say: I know because I've written words to mistresses before. Hundreds of them." On the day of her 26th birthday, Jane is recently single, adrift at her job, and intrigued by why Clem - her much older, married boss - is singing to her. Meanwhile her alter-ego, the online agony aunt Jolly Politely, has all the answers. She's provided thousands of strangers with insightful and occasionally cutting insights to contemporary life's most vexing questions. When she and Clem kiss at a party, Jane does not follow the advice she would give to her readers as Jolly: instead she plunges head-first into an affair. One that could jeopardise her friendships, her career and even her life.

30 review for Promising Young Women

  1. 5 out of 5

    Caroline O'Donoghue

    I wrote this in 2016 and while, on reflection, there are things I would probably change, I still think it's a banger. I wrote this in 2016 and while, on reflection, there are things I would probably change, I still think it's a banger.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    Our company is teeming with women under thirty, and men approaching or over fifty. That is how the food chain works. Dozens of attractive young women do the grunt work for a handful of men, and the women get filtered out by motherhood. It’s the corporate version of natural selection. This starts off like a conventional young-woman-starts-affair-with-older-married-boss storyline but O’Donoghue is too canny a writer to merely re-tell an old, old story. Instead she allows things to become increa Our company is teeming with women under thirty, and men approaching or over fifty. That is how the food chain works. Dozens of attractive young women do the grunt work for a handful of men, and the women get filtered out by motherhood. It’s the corporate version of natural selection. This starts off like a conventional young-woman-starts-affair-with-older-married-boss storyline but O’Donoghue is too canny a writer to merely re-tell an old, old story. Instead she allows things to become increasingly nasty and sinister – not in a twisty psycho-thriller-y way, but in a modern Gothic manner where some of the familiar tropes become almost allegories for gender, age, and sexual asymmetries. What begins as a kind of Bridget Jones for the C21st, ends up as something far cleverer with a politicised sense of the inequalities which underlie everyday life. The writing isn’t particularly stylish but the tone veers effortlessly from comic to self-deprecating, from angsty to redemptive. Some of the developments are a little slow to emerge but by about 70% in this became compulsively gripping. So a coming of age story, a Gothic-style parable, a book about young women, work and friendship – it’s the edginess that makes this stand out from the crowd. A writer to watch. Review from an ARC from Amazon Vine.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Pip

    How is this a debut??? H o w ? I think this book raised my blood pressure, in the very best way.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lotte

    4.5/5. Kind of feel like shouting at everyone to read this book now??

  5. 5 out of 5

    luce

    | | blog | tumblr | ko-fi | | 3.75 stars (rounded up to 4 since this is a debut) “I was afraid, really, of being the main character in my own life.” Promising Young Women is an intelligent and subversive novel that examines the darker and more twisted aspects of a relationship between a female employee and her boss. There was something about the story and its characters that reminded of Joyce Carol Oates (Zombie, Solstice, A Fair Maiden, and Nemesis) in that Promising Young Women is brimming | | blog | tumblr | ko-fi | | 3.75 stars (rounded up to 4 since this is a debut) “I was afraid, really, of being the main character in my own life.” Promising Young Women is an intelligent and subversive novel that examines the darker and more twisted aspects of a relationship between a female employee and her boss. There was something about the story and its characters that reminded of Joyce Carol Oates (Zombie, Solstice, A Fair Maiden, and Nemesis) in that Promising Young Women is brimming with an almost palatable darkness so much so that readers will find themselves overwhelmed by it. From its very opening page the novel juxtaposes the sweet with the grotesque: “[T]he excess of uneaten cake was attracting rats, and when bodies started appearing — bloated and sugar-filled and, more than once, belly-up in the stairwell — they insisted we downsize.” This sets the tone for the rest of the novel as we follow the protagonist, a young promising woman, in a feverish journey towards self-destruction. When Jane Peters turns 26 she is newly single (her long-term boyfriend has fallen in love with someone else) and painfully aware of what she perceives as being her own unfulfilled existence. She works at Mitchell Advertisement where she is one of the many "young women" who work alongside—and often for—older men. When Clem, her much older boss, begins to show interest in her, she finds herself rapidly falling under his spell. The story that follows is very much a subversive take on the trope of the young woman/married older man cliché and from the get go we are made aware of how imbalanced their relationship is. An unmoored Jane feels pressured by the skewed power dynamics between her and Clem into continuing their affair. We witness how slowly yet surely Jane's sense of self is eroded by Clem and by her own growing dissociation with her past self. The deceptively simple prose (as opposed to Oates' more eloquent prose) is compelling and offers readers with a direct look into the mind of an alienated woman. Backdrop to Jane's disintegration is the dangers of workplace competitiveness, the lack of privacy that comes with being an online presence, and the persistency of the more unseen aspects of sexism (a scene where Jane visits a doctor will have you simmering with rage). It is also a satire of certain trends ('actualisation', yoga retreats) in a way that doesn't minimise from Jane's—frankly horrific—experiences. The story blurs the line between reality and fantasy, and as Jane's body and mind become affected by a series of mysterious ailments, so does the prose attain a feverish quality that perfectly captures the Jane's fears and anxieties. Unlike other contemporary novels exploring similar themes, O'Donoghue's debut never romanticises the way Clem degrades Jane, nor does it suggest that Jane's weight loss makes her more 'ethereal' or 'aesthetically cool' (there is none of the usual 'sharp-cheekbones' crap) but rather it shows us in horrifying, and almost grotesque detail, Jane's estrangement from her own body. Clem's presence in Jane's life has almost the same effect as an infection... It was also interesting to read about the way Jane's ambitions regarding her career affects some of her friendships, or causes those around her to reassess their perception of her. In some ways it is Jane's 'promising future' that makes her dissolution all the more affecting. Make no mistake, this isn't a pleasant read. Yes, it was gripping, but more than once I felt sickened by what I was reading. O'Donoghue has created a captivating and terrifying modern Gothic tale which depicts the more poisonous aspects of love affairs, sexism (especially at the workplace), and friendships. Although I was surprised by how weird it ended up being, I completely bought into it. This was a bizarre, compelling, and thought-provoking debut. “I choose to be someone that things happen to, because it was easier than being someone who made things happen.”

  6. 4 out of 5

    Alexis Hall

    I read this on the same plane journey that I read The Pisces and the two have sort of blurred in my head. Much like The Pisces, it’s not really a book I feel it’s my place to have major opinions on since it’s very #metoo adjacent and focused on womens’ experiences of toxic men. But it’s a polished, engaging read. Though I suspect your tolerance for the book will hinge on your resilience-level for the themes. Not in the sense that such things should not, or do not need, to be written about. Being I read this on the same plane journey that I read The Pisces and the two have sort of blurred in my head. Much like The Pisces, it’s not really a book I feel it’s my place to have major opinions on since it’s very #metoo adjacent and focused on womens’ experiences of toxic men. But it’s a polished, engaging read. Though I suspect your tolerance for the book will hinge on your resilience-level for the themes. Not in the sense that such things should not, or do not need, to be written about. Being read about something you just sort of fucking live with every day has the potential to be wearing. Again, though, that’s a wholly subjective thing. And I mention it from the perspective of someone who has a low tolerance for reading about homophobia because it’s just like, yeah, okay that’s Tuesday. And I feel the same might apply to women living in, y’know, the world as it currently exists. Anyway, basically concept is: the heroine Jane, who moonlights as a straight talking agony aunt called Jolly Politely (kind of my favourite part of the book?) has an affair with her older boss dude. This goes about as well as you’d expect. Because patriarchy. Toxic masculinity. Also maybe he’s some kind of actual supernatural psychic vampire who drains the life from, coughs, promising young woman? I dunno. Was that element really needed? Plus I need to seriously stop looking at non-romances with a romance-reader eye because apart from like abstract things like social conditioning and the allure of the taboo I wasn’t sure WHY the heroine was so attracted Clem. Which, of course, is probably the point? I mean, it’s not a romance. No point sitting there going “well, I really can’t see the emotional connection in this blatantly exploitative relationship.” Don’t talk nonsense, Hall.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Nick Imrie

    So I distrusted this book because I heard it was 'very topical'. And usually that means rushed out to catch the zeitgeist with lots of contrived sermons on The Topic. Also, I haven't read a book about young women having affairs in offices since I was a teenage girl who thought having affairs in offices was unbearably glamorous. But there's nothing like actually working in an office to make the idea of office affairs seem tedious and obscene. So my initial distrust followed by a slow start meant I So I distrusted this book because I heard it was 'very topical'. And usually that means rushed out to catch the zeitgeist with lots of contrived sermons on The Topic. Also, I haven't read a book about young women having affairs in offices since I was a teenage girl who thought having affairs in offices was unbearably glamorous. But there's nothing like actually working in an office to make the idea of office affairs seem tedious and obscene. So my initial distrust followed by a slow start meant I was prepared to hate it. And I did for a bit because I could not see anything remotely attractive about Clem. I know that everyone says that power is an aphrodisiac, but for the life of me, I could not see why Jane would pass over sweet, friendly, hot, and young David for obviously bad-news old Clem. Indeed, it seemed to me that the book was signalling how awful Clem is a little too hard. Clem: 'Yeah, come with me, I've totally told David where we're going.' Oh, have you, Clem, a likely story! Clem: 'Just wait for me in the dark alley, I'll totally bring your coat and bag and not just leave them unattended in the pub while I shag you.' Well, really. But really, that's half the question the book is asking, isn't it? The further I went in the story, the more interesting it became. Not just asking why do creepy old men creep on young women, but why do young women allow themselves to be creeped on? It would've been too easy to write a story where Clem was coercive, or violent, or unambiguously lying, but like most creeps Clem does an absolutely stellar job of manipulating Jane. His deceitfulness is all in misdirection and omission, he never threatens, he only flatters, he never coerces, he only tempts. The devil is a charming man. And Jane could've been an innocent victim, but I appreciate her very much for her rather noble struggle with her own complicity. Yeah, Clem stacks the deck so that she always makes the choice he wants her to make – but she does make that choice. And if I've made the book sound rather heavy, then it isn't at all. The writing perfectly captures the voice of an underachieving, intelligent woman. Cool irony and raw emotion. Sharp perception followed by blind obliviousness. And highly relatable, not just for emotionally-troubled women. A lot of the humour is really very close to the bone, like laughing so you don't cry, when it touches on the utter sociopathy of HR, the brutality of office status games, or the pain of growing out of old friendships. I even found that the main story line of Jane and Clem began to feel like trading notes with a friend on your worst relationship. I was breaking up with my Manipulative Older Man at the same age that Jane was getting together with hers. And then it all changes. For two thirds of the novel it's essentially literary fiction levels of examining the minutiae of bad relationships, but with more plot and humour. And then it takes a sharp turn to the thriller. I won't deny that it's gripping and I ripped through the book in a day, but I slightly regretted it. (view spoiler)[I didn't quite understand the final descend into sickness and madness. Was this magical realism? Vampirism as metaphor for older men preying on younger women. Or was it literally a case of poisoning? Had the early characterisation of Clem been obliterated by the later developments? One of the most draining things about bad relationships is that you often don't get closure. The intimacy of a lover means that you have to admit that he's usually correct when he points out all your worst flaws and failures. Then you spend years wondering if he wasn't also correct about the rest? Maybe you are crazy, maybe you did throw yourself at him, maybe you did ruin it. You find yourself ruminating for years about what you could've done differently. How much was your fault? It's rare to get a neat Final Battle in which your former lover definitively reveals himself as The Bad Guy. I was glad for Jane that she got that, but it was jarring for such a wonderfully ambiguous book to be tied up in such a neat bow. (hide spoiler)]

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jaclyn

    This was fun until it became ridiculous. Read Break in Case of Emergency instead.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Karina Webster

    This was much darker than I expected and really addictive - i devoured it in two sittings. While I haven’t gone through any of the things in this book, it felt very believable and relatable. The writing was excellent, I highly recommend.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tanja Berg

    There was a lot here that was cringe worthy because of how recognizable it was. Office flirts, power differences, exploitation and very little black or white. The book is refreshingly free of morals and quite funny in places, even if the message it delivers is dire: don’t let your feelings be exploited by a man. I am now safely delivered out of a marriage that was like a desert (definitely not dessert) and after a hiatus of a few months, delivered into a relationship of high equality and respect. There was a lot here that was cringe worthy because of how recognizable it was. Office flirts, power differences, exploitation and very little black or white. The book is refreshingly free of morals and quite funny in places, even if the message it delivers is dire: don’t let your feelings be exploited by a man. I am now safely delivered out of a marriage that was like a desert (definitely not dessert) and after a hiatus of a few months, delivered into a relationship of high equality and respect. That was not what I had intended. I thought I’d play around a bit. I’m glad I didn’t make that permanent because it’s not how I tick. I’m foremost a monogamist. With this background, oh how relatable Jane’s situation is. Bad break up, into the arms of a married man. It might as well have been me, I’m just glad it isn’t!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Amber

    While I’m not a fan of the term chic lit this is exactly what this book was ... it was well done and I enjoyed it considering this is not my favourite genre

  12. 5 out of 5

    Florina

    Brilliantly written, a lot darker and grittier than I expected, reminding me strongly at times of Margaret Atwood's "The Edible Woman". There's a sense of eeriness and downright horror that slowly creeps up on you, like the old adage about the frog simmering in the pot until it boils. On the one hand, you're reading a dark comedy, wrapped in an office romcom gone wrong, wrapped in a pseudo-domestic thriller, and on the other hand, underneath all that there's a deeper, sharper novel about body ho Brilliantly written, a lot darker and grittier than I expected, reminding me strongly at times of Margaret Atwood's "The Edible Woman". There's a sense of eeriness and downright horror that slowly creeps up on you, like the old adage about the frog simmering in the pot until it boils. On the one hand, you're reading a dark comedy, wrapped in an office romcom gone wrong, wrapped in a pseudo-domestic thriller, and on the other hand, underneath all that there's a deeper, sharper novel about body horror, corporate culture, female hysteria and monstrosity that really pushed it to 5 stars for me. It's like Bridget Jones's Diary meets Bret Easton Ellis. It's "Edible Woman" for our generation, writ large, and I hope this author carries on to explore these themes in future novels.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Niamh

    This book is intoxicating. It's something that, once you're hooked in, there's no way you can get out until you've finished and figured out what happened.. Of course, it gives you those familiar man-hatred feelings, which always makes me excited, but there you go. It's a novel that goes through so many incarnations- at the beginning, it feels more like a chick-lit esque novel about sordid romance, then it becomes a little more intensive and sensual, until finally you really get into thriller ter This book is intoxicating. It's something that, once you're hooked in, there's no way you can get out until you've finished and figured out what happened.. Of course, it gives you those familiar man-hatred feelings, which always makes me excited, but there you go. It's a novel that goes through so many incarnations- at the beginning, it feels more like a chick-lit esque novel about sordid romance, then it becomes a little more intensive and sensual, until finally you really get into thriller territory. Jane, the main character, is such an unreliable narrator that often you have no idea what is really going on, but that just adds to the mystery of it all. I read this novel in a good three sittings because you can't put this thing down. It's surely going to be one of the best books of the summer, and for good reason too.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Maryam Sabbar

    This was a really easy read and I really enjoyed it. However, I feel that there were a few strands to the book which were never clarified at the end. I know it’s always good to be left to use your imagination for some bits, but the end just seemed a little rushed. I felt like it could do with another few chapters to tie up what happened some of the characters who came for a significant period of the book and then disappeared with no explanation. But all in all it’s worth a read in the sunshine.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Fay Flude

    Not sure what I think of this. Second half was better than the first, although maybe that was just the point at which I became more invested in the read. Didn't like Jane for a lot of the book but towards the end when she is clearly unwell, I felt more empathy towards her. A book about a young woman, an affair and the realisation that in spite of it all she could start again, regaining her physical and mental health, more sure of her place in the world. The strength of love between her and her m Not sure what I think of this. Second half was better than the first, although maybe that was just the point at which I became more invested in the read. Didn't like Jane for a lot of the book but towards the end when she is clearly unwell, I felt more empathy towards her. A book about a young woman, an affair and the realisation that in spite of it all she could start again, regaining her physical and mental health, more sure of her place in the world. The strength of love between her and her mother is the purest thing in this book about a twenty six year old woman working in a male dominated world of advertising and on the rebound from ex Max. The book is centred around the cliché of being a mistress to an older man who is also your boss and has some slightly more intriguing aspects with the use of Jolly Politely, Jane's alter ego agony aunt and Luddy who helps Jane reach some important conclusions about herself and her future. It was an ok read. I liked it and I didn't like it. Quirky, well written and RAW.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Eva

    such a deliciously dark book - relatable, gripping, and it touches upon so many different issues such as gaslighting and male privilege. Jane is just a regular 20-something in London - her life is in transition, from being to a safe, secure yet ultimately unsatisfying relationship to being newly single, with lots of time & untapped ambition. Jane could be any girl that moves from a smaller city to London - where people tend to spend money they don't have & compete endlessly for recognition - whe such a deliciously dark book - relatable, gripping, and it touches upon so many different issues such as gaslighting and male privilege. Jane is just a regular 20-something in London - her life is in transition, from being to a safe, secure yet ultimately unsatisfying relationship to being newly single, with lots of time & untapped ambition. Jane could be any girl that moves from a smaller city to London - where people tend to spend money they don't have & compete endlessly for recognition - whether it is by a lover, a friend or a boss. Her life changes when she strikes a sexual relationship with her line manager, Clem. Clem tries to mould Jane into the kind of girl he wants her to be, all the while exploiting her vulnerability & his position of power in the company. Jane realises that this relationship drains her, physically & mentally - first sign of a toxic relationship. And then she finds out that Clem's past is darker than she originally thought.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kaloyana

    The first part of the book was more like 4,5 half stars for me - witty, wise, modern, confident, sharp, etc, everything I like in a contemporary novel, written by young female author. But the second half, turned out to be something like physiological thriller or something of that kind, I can't be sure. The ending was OK, but somehow weak, which made the book bleak. But mostly I enjoyed listening to it. The first part of the book was more like 4,5 half stars for me - witty, wise, modern, confident, sharp, etc, everything I like in a contemporary novel, written by young female author. But the second half, turned out to be something like physiological thriller or something of that kind, I can't be sure. The ending was OK, but somehow weak, which made the book bleak. But mostly I enjoyed listening to it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I had high expectations, and sadly, they were not met. I can't say I was bored reading the first half but I wasn't as captivated by the book that I had expected to be. It got a bit better by part four but I must say I was disappointed by the ending. I was expecting something way more empowering and inspiring but the ending gave me nothing. Why did Jane just run away? (I mean, I kinda get it, but still.) Did Clem get away with what he did or were there actual consequences? (I doubt there were.) H I had high expectations, and sadly, they were not met. I can't say I was bored reading the first half but I wasn't as captivated by the book that I had expected to be. It got a bit better by part four but I must say I was disappointed by the ending. I was expecting something way more empowering and inspiring but the ending gave me nothing. Why did Jane just run away? (I mean, I kinda get it, but still.) Did Clem get away with what he did or were there actual consequences? (I doubt there were.) How did Darla cope? I feel like important issues such as sexual harrasment and sexual abuse were only discussed to be 'timely' because of #MeToo, but there wasn't really a closure to anything. And Jane's mental health and alcoholism weren't taken seriously at all, but instead she was ridiculed for being mad and lazy, which is really stigmatizing. Even though this is a pretty negative review, I didn't hate the book. I actually enjoyed it, or at least felt neutral about it for the most part. What probably bothers me the most is that I actually bought this book based on high reviews, thinking I'd want to read it more than once. Well, that's not likely to happen, but at least the cover art is nice so the book will look pretty on my shelf even if I never open it again.

  19. 5 out of 5

    SJ

    I enjoyed this a lot but also wanted so much more from the ending.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Anna-Carolina

    This was a great debut novel: well-written, well-paced, and it reminded me a lot of Margaret Atwood's debut novel The Edible Woman where the protagonist's mental decline also leads to strong physical decline. While Promising Young Women seemingly started off as a chick lit, slowly more and more depth was added to the story. I would have, however, liked to learn a little bit more about Jane's relationship with her mother. The ending, where she declares her love for her mother, felt a bit rushed, This was a great debut novel: well-written, well-paced, and it reminded me a lot of Margaret Atwood's debut novel The Edible Woman where the protagonist's mental decline also leads to strong physical decline. While Promising Young Women seemingly started off as a chick lit, slowly more and more depth was added to the story. I would have, however, liked to learn a little bit more about Jane's relationship with her mother. The ending, where she declares her love for her mother, felt a bit rushed, although it was a beautiful closing chapter.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Matilda

    read after Mira's glowing review!! probably more a 4.5 but highly enjoyed. explores the power imbalanced relationship theme in such a good way (which for me a lot of books do not lol) as well as hitting so many points on just what it is like to be a young woman at the moment. so good read after Mira's glowing review!! probably more a 4.5 but highly enjoyed. explores the power imbalanced relationship theme in such a good way (which for me a lot of books do not lol) as well as hitting so many points on just what it is like to be a young woman at the moment. so good

  22. 4 out of 5

    Cat

    Wasn’t expecting to enjoy this book this much, so yay me for picking it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gayatri

    10/10 like caroline o'donoghue herself said, this book is a banger 10/10 like caroline o'donoghue herself said, this book is a banger

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tuti

    interesting and well-written account of what it‘s like to be a twenty-something woman in london, working in marketing, getting involved in a complicated romantic power-game at the office - and surviving it. it‘s definitely more then just chick-lit. underneath the glossy surface, real life-defining questions are being adressed in an intelligent and compelling novel. recommended.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Anna Dawson

    Intense, harrowing and engaging, with some poignant observations on feminism, individuality and power structures.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Susan Lanigan

    This book really blew me away. Sylvia Plath meets Bram Stoker meets Marian Keyes. Ostensibly a contemporary fiction about a young woman working in an advertising agency who is pulled into a disastrous yet addictive relationship with a much older man, it contains elements of gothic and fantasy that are delicately sounded, yet very much present - and by the time you do detect them, you are well and truly along for the ride. Jane Peters is in her late twenties and works for a ghastly advertising com This book really blew me away. Sylvia Plath meets Bram Stoker meets Marian Keyes. Ostensibly a contemporary fiction about a young woman working in an advertising agency who is pulled into a disastrous yet addictive relationship with a much older man, it contains elements of gothic and fantasy that are delicately sounded, yet very much present - and by the time you do detect them, you are well and truly along for the ride. Jane Peters is in her late twenties and works for a ghastly advertising company which sounds a lot like some companies I have come across, albeit in a different industry. Living in London, she has recently broken up with her boyfriend Max and moves out of his flat in Canary Wharf (have to admit I had a raised eyebrow at how much money would be needed to support that and why the money Jane owes him should matter when he sells it) I got the distinct feeling even early on that Jane is an unreliable narrator when it comes to her relationship with Max and excuses the cheating and manipulation because she thinks she has driven him off. She also runs an anonymous agony aunt website which has quite a popular following online. Not sure if this is a spoiler or not, it's discussed in other reviews, but if you don't want to know who Jane gets involved with, skip the next few paragraphs! At work, she is sucked into a relationship with a project manager even though she prefers someone else. The evolution of this affair is very well done - starting with a small seductive hook such as singing "Happy Birthday" to her when nobody else is - the way he slips into the narrative in such a nondescript fashion then fades again - then steadily increasing in intensity, shining a light of professional approval on her work until she is quite lost to the nice, ordinary colleague she genuinely fancies and falls head over heels for Clem, the high-powered exec. And "falls" in all sense of the word, as getting entangled with Clem pushes her into spiritual and then physical downfall. Jane's grip on her sanity and her health loosens dangerously. Morally, too, she begins to be compromised; early on she steals her roommate Shiraz's tights to go to a pitch meeting to impress Clem, and doesn't express any guilt or embarrassment at her action. She drinks to excess - an excess that I found difficult to read at times - and stops eating. Clem's interest in her, after the first couple of encounters where he assumes a role of fatherly wisdom and experience, seems almost wholly sexual and acquisitive - as Shiraz warns Jane - but thankfully the depiction of Jane's love addiction meant that this did not wear thin. As Donoghue recounts the million ways men play games to sideline, subjugate or exploit women, her prose is so knowing, darkly bright like crackling, gilded cellophane, that as a reader, let alone a writer, I feel a little naive and unworldly by comparison! It is as if the whole veil cast over romance is lifted, and one squeamishly sees the underside of exploitation and vulnerability for the first time, and winces with discomfort. The dialogue is spot on, and the resolution - once Clem is seen for nothing more than what he is - is truly very satisfying indeed. I'm mystified by reviews comparing O'Donoghue's work to Sally Rooney's and finding it falls short. Without commenting on the latter, I would strenuously disagree; O'Donoghue's prose is precise and rounded and her adventurousness in storytelling, far from detracting from the stark realism of the novel's underlying message, illuminates it through parable and narrative, from decline and fall through to rising again. A bit of drama lifts this from the finger-wagging homily it could have ended up being. This hero's journey is not resolved through any Prince Charming - Jane is cured of fairy tales and her journey is all the more bracing for it. Wonderful read, warmly recommended.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    What starts off as a seemingly conventional ingenue-in-the-city, restless millennial narrative deftly warps into something much darker and more interesting and genuinely original than might immediately seem apparent. A Gothic thriller wrapped up as "chick lit" that foxes our perception and judgment of what is chick lit, and gendered perceptions even of literary genre. The on the nose references to contemporary living might come off as too wincingly familiar at times, but I felt like the ferociou What starts off as a seemingly conventional ingenue-in-the-city, restless millennial narrative deftly warps into something much darker and more interesting and genuinely original than might immediately seem apparent. A Gothic thriller wrapped up as "chick lit" that foxes our perception and judgment of what is chick lit, and gendered perceptions even of literary genre. The on the nose references to contemporary living might come off as too wincingly familiar at times, but I felt like the ferociously intelligent things this book has to say about toxic masculinity, workplace sexism and particularly a twentysomething heterosexual woman's attitudes toward men and her own self image, make this a truly worthwhile and entertaining read. I really really really enjoyed it and it makes you think. I also enjoyed what it had to say about the complexity of women's friendships/professional dynamics, depicted warmly without veering into schmaltziness.

  28. 5 out of 5

    m.

    This was good but I was expecting more discussions of power imbalance and less weird stalker subplots that read like a YA mystery novel

  29. 4 out of 5

    Imogen

    Both clever and witty, this book is an excellent commentary on power and control in the work environment, but also the fragility of mental health. I found it difficult to read at some points, but perhaps that’s what gives it its realism and differentiates it from others of its kind. The characters never seem to be hugely likeable, yet they’re kind of relatable and the ending left me with a feeling of pride for Jane. Everyone has their flaws so again, the lack of “perfect” characters probably jus Both clever and witty, this book is an excellent commentary on power and control in the work environment, but also the fragility of mental health. I found it difficult to read at some points, but perhaps that’s what gives it its realism and differentiates it from others of its kind. The characters never seem to be hugely likeable, yet they’re kind of relatable and the ending left me with a feeling of pride for Jane. Everyone has their flaws so again, the lack of “perfect” characters probably just serves to add to the realism of it.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    It can seem at first that the book focuses on the relationship between Jane and Clem, a married man. But really it's about all the abusive relationships: whether it is with a parent, a friend, a husband or a boyfriend. The slow decline of Jane feels so familiar and Im sure women can recognise themselves in some parts of her tormented life. It can seem at first that the book focuses on the relationship between Jane and Clem, a married man. But really it's about all the abusive relationships: whether it is with a parent, a friend, a husband or a boyfriend. The slow decline of Jane feels so familiar and Im sure women can recognise themselves in some parts of her tormented life.

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