Novels exploring modern alienation

You’re not alone if you’ve been wondering whether digital connections are ties that bind.

In 2021, our online lives neatly overlay our in-person existence and experiences through both technologies immediacy as well as its ubiquity. And yet, the distance between what we think versus how we feel, how we act versus what we desire, and how we present offline versus our online persona, for many, has never been greater.

An asynchronous existence between us and our world has emerged as the norm, but what do we think about it? Below, nine authors provide their meditations on alienation, attachment, and where the 21st century life has us heading.


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Second Place by Rachel Cusk

A woman invites a famed artist to visit the remote coastal region where she lives, in the belief that his vision will penetrate the mystery of her life and landscape. Over the course of one hot summer, his provocative presence provides the frame for a study of female fate and male privilege, of the geometries of human relationships, and of the struggle to live morally between our internal and external worlds.

Read our review here.


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My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong? Our narrator has many of the advantages of life – young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, she lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like everything else, by her inheritance. But there is a vacuum at the heart of things, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents in college, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her alleged best friend.


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No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

A woman known for her viral social media posts travels the world speaking to her adoring fans, her entire existence overwhelmed by the internet - or what she terms ‘the portal’. Are we in hell? the people of the portal ask themselves. Are we all just going to keep doing this until we die? Suddenly, two texts from her mother pierce the fray: ‘Something has gone wrong,’ and ‘How soon can you get here?’

Read our review here.


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Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura (translated by Philip Gabriel)

In a tranquil neighbourhood of Tokyo, seven teenagers wake to find their bedroom mirrors are shining. At a single touch, they are pulled from their lonely lives to a wondrous castle. In this new sanctuary, they are confronted with a set of clues leading to a hidden room where one of them will be granted a wish. But there’s a catch: if they don’t leave the castle by five o'clock, they will all die. As time passes, a devastating truth emerges: only those brave enough to share their stories will be saved.

Read our review here.


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Goblin Girl by Moa Romanova (translated by Melissa Bowers)

Things seem to be looking up when Moa Romanova - broke, depressed, and living in a squat above an old store - matches with a very famous celebrity on a popular hook-up site. Not only does the 53-year-old man like Moa - he also immediately validates and motivates her in a way that not even her therapist does, even offering to help financially support her artistic ambitions. However, Moa soon discovers that there are strings attached.


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A Room Called Earth by Madeleine Ryan

A young woman gets ready to go to a party. She arrives, feels overwhelmed, leaves, and then returns. Minutely attuned to the people who come into her view, and alternating between alienation and profound connection, she is hilarious, self-aware, sometimes acerbic, and painfully honest. And by the end of the night, she’s shown us something radical about love, loss, and the need to belong.

Read our review here.


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Little Scratch by Rebecca Watson

Little Scratch tells the story of a day in the life of an unnamed woman, living in a lower-case world of demarcated fridge shelves and office politics; clock-watching and WhatsApp notifications. In a voice that is fiercely wry, touchingly delicate and increasingly neurotic, the protagonist relays what it takes to get through the quotidian detail of that single trajectory - from morning to night - while processing recent sexual violence.


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Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri

The woman moves through the city, her city, on her own. She moves along its bright pavements; she passes over its bridges, through its shops and pools and bars. She slows her pace to watch a couple fighting, to take in the sight of an old woman in a waiting room; pauses to drink her coffee in a shaded square. In the arc of a year, as one season gives way to the next, transformation awaits.

Read our review here.


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Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

This is the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behaviour of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass in the street outside. She remains hopeful a customer will soon choose her, but when the possibility emerges that her circumstances may change for ever, Klara is warned not to invest too much in the promises of humans.

Read our review here.

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Second Place: Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2021

Second Place: Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2021

Rachel Cusk

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