No Hard Feelings

Genevieve Novak

No Hard Feelings
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No Hard Feelings

Genevieve Novak

I exist on validation from emotionally unavailable men, biscuits, and cheap wine, and it’s easier to get off with Max than a Tiny Teddy.

Penny can’t help but compare herself to her friends. Annie is about to be a senior associate at her law firm, Bec has just got engaged, Leo is dating everyone this side of the Yarra, and Penny is just … waiting. Waiting for Max, her on-again, off-again boyfriend, to allow her to spend the night, waiting for the promotion she was promised, waiting for her Valium to kick in. Waiting for her real life to start.

Out of excuses and sick of falling behind, Penny challenges herself to turn things around. She’s going to make it work with Max, impress her tyrannical boss, quit seeing her useless therapist, remember to water her plants, and stop having panic attacks in the work toilets.

But soon she’s back to doomscrolling on Instagram, necking bottles of Aldi’s finest sauvignon blanc, and criticising herself with renewed vigour and loathing. When her goals seem further away than ever, she has to wonder: when bad habits feel so good, how do you trust what’s good for you?

Review

You know that all-consuming, semi- intoxicated feeling you get when you find yourself so invested in a book that you don’t want to put it down? I may not have gotten any hard feelings from Genevieve Novak’s debut, No Hard Feelings, but I certainly did feel that one. Which is no mean feat, particularly when the writing is as character-driven and contemplative as Novak’s.

Set against the familiar backdrop of Melbourne’s inner suburbs, No Hard Feelings follows 26-year-old Penny as she navigates the disorientating tumult that characterises work, friendships and relationships in your mid- twenties. There are three central challenges that Penny faces throughout the novel: her unfulfilling (read: toxic) relationship with her commitment-phobic sometimes-boyfriend Max, the pressure that conflicting priorities and constant comparisons are putting on her relationship with best friends Annie and Bec, and her inability to please her demanding boss Margot at the digital marketing agency where she works. Underlying it all is Penny’s constant struggle to manage her insecurities and avoid unhealthy patterns while burdened by the creeping feeling that she is the only one for whom life isn’t quite falling into place.

No Hard Feelings establishes Novak as part of an increasingly popular generation of female authors who are unveiling the contemporary woman’s inner life in all its chaotic, complicated glory (think Dolly Alderton, Ottessa Moshfegh and Diana Reid). In Penny, Novak gives us a heroine whose flaws are just the right balance of frustrating and endearing. The authenticity of her as a character, and of the writing in general, is what makes this debut so impressive. Even Novak’s pop- culture references, from Gilmore Girls to Euphoria, feel remarkably of-the-moment. Overall, No Hard Feelings is perceptive and unflinching, yet upbeat enough to keep me engaged from start to finish. I can’t wait to see what Novak writes next.


Olivia Hurley is a bookseller at Readings St Kilda.

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