Review by Joanne O’Sullivan

A novel that manoeuvres pop culture and contemporary concerns with powerful insight

Promising Young Women. Caroline O’Donoghue. Virago; 351pp; £16.99 hb; 24cm; 978-0-349-00990-2.


O’Donoghue’s début novel joins an impressive cohort of recent ‘millennial’ fiction. Those already satisfied with releases such as Lisa Owen’s Not Working, Lauren Berry’s Living the Dream and Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends will be more than happy to encounter a story that delivers just as much as these. Promising Young Women opens with Jane, the adrift narrator, facing the awkwardness of a company birthday celebration while she contends with the messy break-up of her five-year relationship. This opening scene establishes the cynical but playful tone that the rest of the story follows. Birthday cakes have been replaced by cupcakes as the office has expanded. Jane suspects that she might in fact be the ‘best friend’ of her eager-to-please but anxious colleague, and her hungover reflections that she and her ex had been ‘two strays who had been rescued and re-homed as a pair’ lead to her crying in a meeting room. These observations on the disappointments and low-level anxieties of post-university life are the cornerstone of the story, and even when the plot becomes slightly confused by its own drama later on, it is this unfailingly sharp wit that holds everything together […]

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November/December 2018 (issue no.382)

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