2020 saw the publication of some incredible books by indie publishers. Two in particular made it to my 'best of 2020' list: Exit Management by Naomi Booth (Dead Ink Books) and Boy Parts by Eliza Clark (Influx Press). It is these two incredible indies (Dead Ink and Influx Press) that have joined together to create New Ruins, "a paperback originals imprint focused on the porous and uncanny boundary between the edge lands of literary fiction and genre fiction". I was lucky enough to get my hands on a proof of their first book, Absorbed by Kylie Whitehead, being published in May 2021. This is Whitehead's debut novel and a firecracker start to my 2021 reading list.
Absorbed follows the story of Allison who has been with her boyfriend, Owen, since university. Allison gave up her dreams of being a writer and slipped into the mundanity of an office job at the local council. It feels like the only interesting thing about her is that she's Owen's girlfriend. But what if he's slipping away? What if he wants more out of life?
So, Allison absorbs him. Figuratively and literally. She takes on all of his best qualities, blurring the boundary between her love for him and her envy. But what happens when two become one? Will Allison ever feel whole?
"Owen's love had never been something I had accepted. It always felt like a challenge, a prize I would only receive for winning an unwinnnable competition. If I could only be a little bit better[...]thinner or more intelligent or more ambitious, then maybe he could love me." (Pg. 239)
This book had me 'wow'ing throughout. I absolutely devoured it. Couldn't put it down. I was completely absorbed (punny) in Whitehead's writing style, the plot's twists and turns, and the complex themes about the body and modern relationships. This novel puts our obsession with 'The Couple' as a single entity under a hot microscope - why must we have someone else to feel whole? Whitehead asks who we are without each other, who women might be without men and the patriarchal conditoning we are all part of.
"Had I ever really loved him? perhaps I just hated myself. I had tried to pull him closer and closer, but really I had been creating empty space within myself; space I now needed to fill." (Pg. 239)
As I said before, this is Whitehead's debut novel, and I love indie publishers' for taking 'risks' in taking on debut authors. Whitehead is a fresh voice talking about modern day problems and probing the reader's mind, which is probably my favourite kind of writing. If you're a fan of Naomi Booth or Ottessa Moshfegh (and if you aren't, why on earth not?!), this book is definitely for you. Squeamishly uncomfortable and oddly familiar, Whitehead unmasks our anxious attachments to one another.
I can't wait for this to be published and to see what Kylie Whitehead, and New Ruins, has in store for us next.
Here's some more of my favourite quotes from the book:
"I had long suspected that no one was really, truly happy for anyone else, that no one could ever see someone else's small successes and appreciate the outside of the context their own fulfilment." (Pg. 22)
"Whenever he told me anything about his past, I felt sick. I was horrified that he had lived before he met me, that he had existed in the world as a person I would never know." (Pg.52)
"The thing about being single that I had never really considered was that you were expected to have a personality, hobbies, a means of success" (pg. 160)
Thanks for reading, and happy 2021!