A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing

Jessie Tu

A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing
Allen & Unwin
2 July 2020

A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing

Jessie Tu

Finalist for the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction 2020

Jena Lin plays the violin. She was once a child prodigy and now uses sex to fill the void left by fame. She’s struggling a little. Her professional life comprises rehearsals, concerts, auditions and relentless practice; her personal life is spent managing the demands of her strict family and creative friends, and hooking up. And then she meets Mark - much older and worldly-wise - who consumes her. But at what cost to her dreams?

When Jena is awarded an internship with the New York Philharmonic, she thinks the life she has dreamed of is about to begin. But when Trump is elected, New York changes irrevocably and Jena along with it. Is the dream over? As Jena’s life takes on echoes of Frances Ha, her favourite film, crucial truths are gradually revealed to her.

A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing explores female desire and the consequences of wanting too much and never getting it. It is about the awkwardness and pain of being human in an increasingly dislocated world - and how, in spite of all this, we still try to become the person we want to be. This is a dazzling and original debut from a young writer with a fierce, intelligent and audacious voice.    


Jessie Tu has worked as a classical violinist, teacher and journalist. This is her first work of fiction and it is an astonishing debut. The lonely girl at the heart of this novel is Jena Lin. Jena’s grandfather was a famous pianist and child prodigy in China. In Australia, Jena was also once considered a child prodigy. By the age of fourteen she had won seven international violin competitions and the chance to play a solo with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall. During the performance she had a public meltdown and retreated from the limelight. Her grandfather always said that it was the destiny of the talented to suffer and to fulfill their excessive needs at any cost.

Now in her twenties, Jena lives in Sydney and has begun to play the violin again. She is auditioning along with her best friend for a permanent orchestral role in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Jena’s daily routine of practice and rehearsal is relentless, and she can be unpleasant and prickly. She also considers herself to be a sex addict. In the absence of the attention and acclaim given to a soloist musician she finds random sex with a variety of men almost as fulfilling. Her needs are excessive, but she will meet them at any cost.

Jena gets the job but loses her best friend in the process. She then meets Mark, who is in a long-term relationship with someone else. Mark is rich, middle aged, racist and sexist, but self-sabotaging Jena is drawn to him. She is lonely. There is such a disconnect between Jena Lin the gifted Australian violinist and Jena Lin the sex addict that the decisions she makes are heartbreaking. Jena then wins an internship with the New York Philharmonic and her life seems about to change for the better. She moves to New York just as Trump is elected and the experience is not quite what she expected.

This is a fascinating and intense debut that challenges systemic racism and misogyny, particularly in the progressive artistic world. It is confronting but it is also brilliant and original. Jessie Tu is an incredible new voice in Australian literature.

Kara Nicholson is part of the online Readings team.

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