Like with most stories that start with a twenty-something London-based office worker navigating the breakdown of a long-term relationship, your mind settles in for a harmless piece of Chick-Lit. And then Caroline O’Donoghue’s Promising Young Women knocks you off-centre by turning into something else entirely.
The praise on the book’s sleeve repeatedly uses the word “gothic.” Thanks to a module I did in my final year at Swansea (brilliantly named Uncanny places and cyberspaces: Gender and the fantastic) I’m well aware that gothic tropes aren’t limited to stories set in haunted houses in the nineteenth century, but even so Promising Young Women does something totally refreshing with ideas of uncanniness. It’s a novel that proves how relevant gothic images, like starving women fading away, mirrors, periods and other bodily fluids, continue to be relevant and effective at portraying contemporary crises.
“I don’t have a boyfriend or a fabulous career, and I think she’d like some better adjectives to describe me to her friends with.” – Promising Young Women
At first, the book doesn’t have the most groundbreaking plot you’ve ever heard of (woman’s anonymous blog seeps into her real life) but O’Donoghue gradually gets under your skin as she tells Jane’s story. A story that while almost fantastical is likely to be relatable and understandable for any young working woman.
The darkness and depth of this book creep up on you and by the time you’ve realised, you can’t put it down. Dealing with power imbalances (professional and romantic), mental illness and the false security of the Internet’s anonymity, this debut novel makes O’Donoghue one to watch.