THE PLOT: ‘Promising Young Women’ by Caroline O’Donoghue is millennial women’s fiction about a 26-year-old girl who has an abusive relationship with her much older boss. Jane has recently broken up with her boyfriend and is floundering in her unfulfilling marketing career. When her married boss starts paying her attention, it’s exciting to be the other woman. But as she realises that sex and power are inextricably linked, she starts to lose her sanity. And when she discovers this isn’t his first relationship with a younger colleague, she’s determined to find out the truth.
RATING: I read this book in one day so I have to give it four stars. It’s incredibly easy to read and moreish, and I found myself truly “in” the book as my sanity spiralled in tandem with the main character. Published around the same time as the initial ‘Me Too’ movement, it’s an all too familiar story about abuses of power. The subject matter is moving yet relatable, and the main character is emblematic of thousands of women who work soul-destroying office jobs where they are taken advantage of. The book gets very dark (which always ticks my boxes), but also retains a level of humour and self-awareness. A lover of Caroline O’Donoghue’s podcasts, I’m somewhat relieved to have enjoyed this book and I’d definitely read the rest of her work.
GOOD BITS: This book is incredibly entertaining and relatable. Despite the dark twists and turns, there’s a lot of humour and reflection on modern society. It made me cringe remembering the workplace, friendship and relationship dramas of my early twenties, but also provoked a strong feminist rage. I particularly liked the supporting character, Becky, because she was so sweet yet so lame – we all know a Becky. Although I enjoy the use of different media in novels, I’m not sure that the main character’s secret agony aunt blog worked because the posts felt a bit random and disjointed, but it was a necessary thread for the climax.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: While I usually love reading about young women in mental health crises, I felt the main character lacked a bit of oomph. I struggled to get a sense of Jane’s personality. This is partly because she becomes swept up with her relationship, but it also seemed like she had no interests and I was suspicious of her lack of school or university friends. In a way, I felt she reads much younger than twenty-six. Additionally, the ending was very dramatic but I felt it was a tad too extreme as the older man’s actions became somewhat farcical to underline what a bad person he was.
OVERALL: I’d recommend this book to lovers of ‘Ghosts’ by Dolly Alderton, ‘Asking for It’ by Louise O’Neill and ‘My Dark Vanessa’ by Kate Elizabeth Russell. I’m aware all of these books are in different genres, but I feel like ‘Promising Young Women’ sits at the intersection between these three books.