No Hard Feelings by Genevieve Novak reminded me very much of another book I read recently – Love and Other Puzzles by Kimberley Allsopp. (And I note that Allsopp has provided a cover quote for this book.)
I particularly enjoyed that both weren’t about exceptionally talented women… you know, the kind authors sometimes assume women aspire to be. But nor were they about completely dysfunctional or unreliable narrators. In fact, both lead characters are somewhere in between. And perhaps that makes them more relatable. They don’t have their shit together despite having reached adulthood. Instead they’re wading through the waters of life trying to reach the solid ground society seems to expect of them.
No Hard Feelings
by Genevieve Novak
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Australia
Source: Harper Collins
Genres: General Fiction, Women's Fiction
Penny can't help but compare herself to her friends. Annie is about to become 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 is determined 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. As her goals seem further away than ever, she has to wonder: when bad habits feel so good, how do you trust what's right for you?
There’s a few things happening here. Like Love and Other Puzzles it’s a (be)coming of age novel of sorts… more about blossoming (or otherwise) into responsible adulthood.
It’s a challenging transition: having traversed the joys of (legitimately) being able to buy booze and vote we now have responsibilities: bosses to please, rent to pay, commitments to keep. It’s often harder than we think and very tempting to compare ourselves to those around us.
Many of my friends partnered up and started families at similar times. One minute they’re there at the pub with you… and the next they’re not. Their priorities have changed – understandably – but for those whose lives haven’t changed it can feel as if you’ve been left behind. You no longer fit in.
And that’s certainly the case here for Penny and her besties. Bec has become engaged and lost any sympathy for Penny and her less-than-healthy obsession with getting back with her ex Max. And Annie – though her love life is pretty messy – is successful career-wise and buying her first house.
It’s like I’m waiting for my life to start. So far, these situationships and set backs are part of a cold open, and I’m ready for someone to roll the opening credits. I’m sick of the holding pattern, but I don’t know how to land on my own. p 27
Penny’s still sleeping with her ex when dates go poorly, still hoping he takes her back and decides they should (again) be a couple. Coincidentally however, her flatmate – who she’s lived with for some time, but only just getting to know* – has become single and becomes a life boat of sorts. The sounding board her friends are unable to be.
I think it’s fairly obvious where this will go but I enjoyed the journey nonetheless. It’s kinda like Penny has to make the mistakes that feel inevitable, to really hit rock bottom to move on. Of course that being said, I think her friends aren’t necessarily as ‘there’ as they think they are and their own expectations of life colour how they view Penny’s.
I really enjoyed this debut novel by Novak and found it a charming and comforting read. Even as a 54 year old woman (albeit single and childless) I could relate to much of the Penny’s search for purpose and acceptance. Probably more than I do books featuring parenting issues and kids with behavioural problems and the like.
*Being picky I did find it a smidge unrealistic that Penny had been flatting with Leo for a year and not had any conversations about themselves or life… but then again I’m an oversharer and rarely shut up.
No Hard Feelings by Genevieve Novak was published in Australia by Harper Collins and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.