Are you hungover, underpaid, or overwhelmed? Are you in your twenties and realising life ISN’T all it’s cracked up to be? Jasmine Oke tells us to have No Hard Feelings.
Sunburn. It’s uncomfortable; it’s hot; it’s raw. You try everything to speed up the healing process: aloe vera, cool showers, and drinking litres upon litres (of water). No Hard Feelings Penny is eternally sunburnt, despite her story taking place in the cool and nippy streets of Melbourne’s CBD. Her friends can no longer stand her, her (ex?) boyfriend is as distant and withholding as ever, and she’s hit a dead end at her job, which she despises. Whilst the pitfalls of comparison and doom-scrolling are no strangers to Penny, it seems as though she gets to know herself less and less with each passing moment.
Described by many as ‘Normal People for Australians’, or a crossover between Fleabag and Dolly Alderton, Novak’s 2022 novel follows the daily musings of a nearly-twenty-seven-year-old just trying to get by. Riddled with self-doubt and controlled by her self-destructive tendencies, we see her push away her two dearest gal pals in order to keep ahold of those whom, let’s be honest, she would be much better without (the pompous and self-absorbed Max). While Annie and Bec are out getting promoted and engaged, Penny is probably in one of three places – being yelled at by her demanding and unreasonable boss in the office, crying on the tram ride home from said office, or sitting on the couch shovelling ice cream into her mouth and bingeing Netflix with her roommate, Leo.
We gain intimate insights into sessions Penny has with her therapist, many of which echo thoughts we all would have had regarding therapy and bettering ourselves at one point or another. On this journey, we see her transform into someone able to take accountability. She spends a lot of the novel blaming everyone else for her misfortunes but ultimately begins to recognise when things are her own doing and that only she can forge a more optimistic path. As we get further into the novel, Penny’s therapist is no longer ‘out to get her’, her friends are no longer ‘too busy and successful to listen to her silly problems’, she no longer seeks validation from her horrible ex-boyfriend, and her boss’ criticism is no longer paralysing. Everything must then fall into place afterwards, right?
With a protagonist that is just the right mix of infuriating and relatable, as well as the neverending wit and humour of both the dialogue and internal monologue, there is never a dull moment in Novak’s No Hard Feelings.