I'm Sick and Tired of Sad Girl Novels
What are all these disaffected women doing to our brains?
News & Reviews Magazine
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The piece you’re reading now is by Neha Kale. Neha is a widely-published writer working in many forms including criticism, journalism, essay and other nonfiction. For more than a decade, her writing on art, contemporary culture and society has appeared frequently in international and Australian publications including The Sydney Morning Herald, ArtReview, Vogue, Elephant, VICE, The Guardian, Griffith Review, Art Guide Australia, SBS, Kill Your Darlings, Gourmet Traveller, Running Dog, i-D, Wonderground, BBC and more. Neha currently writes a fortnightly column called ‘The Influence’, interviewing cultural figures about the art that has informed their lives for The Saturday Paper. She was the editor of VAULT magazine from 2015 to 2018 and is now working on her first book.
The narrator of Pip Finkemeyer’s Sad Girl Novel, Kim Mueller, is an Australian in her twenties, alone and adrift on Berlin’s Ringbahn. Kim finds the rhythm of the German railways an apt metaphor for the patterns of her life. To visit her therapist, Debbie, she makes regular dates with the city’s circular transit system and her thoughts spiral, orbiting around: Matthew, the New York literary agent she thinks she’s in love with; whether the book she’s writing is pointless; and her connection with her best friend Bel, a black-humoured historian who’s just given birth.
‘Ask Debbie about Matthew. Ask Debbie about Matthew’s invitation. Ask Debbie if your novel is stupid. Ask Debbie if your life is stupid. Ask Debbie if it’s wrong to be jealous of your best friend’s baby. Don’t ask Debbie but try to ascertain, does Debbie like you?’
In the sad girl novel, sadness is always unresolved. It’s free-floating, ambient, existential. There is so much to be sad about. There’s, of course, the problem of labour under capitalism. The problem of sex under patriarchy. The problem of love when heteronormativity feels like a dead end, when female desire so often, still, goes unexpressed and unacknowledged. I’ve read close to a dozen novels who feature narrators that feel interchangeable. They are complicated young women who want you to know that their lives are complicated. They narrate the same set of themes in a voice that’s become singular: droll, hyperconscious, winkingly self-aware, a feminist consciousness as imagined by an algorithm, digesting the terms of your life in real-time so you don’t have to.