Book review: Green Dot, Madeleine Gray

This impressive debut explores the complexities of love in the context of an illicit workplace romance.
Green Dot. Image is of a woman from the waist up with short red hair and a red shirt, and on the right a book cover of a black and white illustration of a faceless woman in front of a burning house.

Green Dot by debut author Madeleine Gray is a witty coming-of-age novel, dressed in a sad girl aesthetic. The story follows an ultra-educated and underemployed 20-something named Hera, who falls into accidental love with a married colleague.

Gray’s writing style is youthful and of its time, maintaining an observational intelligence that sets this book apart from thematically similar novels.

The cover art hints at the burning down of one’s life in pursuit of love, a theme that pervades the bulk of the narrative, but Gray’s non-judgemental treatment of the subject matter vibrates with the moral relativism this book deserves. Hera’s first person perspective is bitingly clever, with intellect that often exceeds her social adeptness. Her transition from academia to the harsh realities of capitalist ensnarement sets the stage for the narrative’s exploration of autonomy and identity. 

The story delves into the emotional complexities of allowing oneself to see and be seen by another human, subtly highlighting the unseen distinctions between lust and love. As Hera’s relationship with Arthur unfolds, the poignant imagery of the green dot, symbolic of online connection, takes on new meanings. What was once comforting becomes a source of anxiety and potential rejection. 

In private, Hera and Arthur explore themselves through each other, and each other through themselves. From low-key role-playing as a straight-passing couple to tapping into a false sense of future-oriented promise, Hera isn’t exactly delusional, but her imaginative optimism is not a state correlated with real-world satisfaction.

Hera finds it difficult to compartmentalise the contradictory aspects of her relationship with the much-older (and very married) Arthur and struggles with the downsides of falling madly in love with someone whose life is strictly off limits to her. However, Hera relishes the ways in which the secret nature of their relationship heightens her perceived experience of their intimacy.

Hera’s life outside her obsession with Arthur suffers as she sacrifices more and more of what matters to her, in service of the relationship she dreams her patience will one day secure. Her journey from holding green-dot vigils to pursuing her own path speaks to the novel’s themes of autonomy and self-discovery. Green Dot touches empathically on the self-deception that can come with playing the long game in love, including the cost to one’s own unrealised potential. 

The novel’s resonance with readers lies in its relatability, capturing the challenges and triumphs of modern relationships. From the relentless hours of text messaging to the secretive nature of a forbidden relationship, Gray’s storytelling is captivating, humorous and poignant. She expertly captures Hera’s ongoing dopamine-roller coaster in an array of evocative snapshots, from the compulsive self-disclosure period at the start of a passionate relationship, to the inexplicable tendency to infatuatedly idealise a partner’s most annoying idiosyncrasies.

Read: Book review: At the Foot of the Cherry Tree, Alli Parker

Green Dot is a remarkable debut that explores the complexities of love, identity and autonomy through the addictive lens of a perfectly flawed protagonist. Gray’s writing, with its youthful vernacular and unapologetic humour, makes this novel an unputdownable journey from hopeful naivety to empowered autonomy. This book will resonate with generations of “other women” and any human whose involuntary feelings have ever held them hostage. 

Green Dot, Madeleine Gray
Allen & Unwin
ISBN: 9781761068614
Pages: 384pp
Publication Date: 3 October 2023
RRP: $32.99

Nanci Nott is a nerdy creative with particular passions for philosophy and the arts. She has completed a BA in Philosophy, and postgraduate studies in digital and social media. Nanci is currently undertaking an MA in Creative Writing, and is working on a variety of projects ranging from novels to video games. Nanci loves reviewing books, exhibitions, and performances for ArtsHub, and is creative director at Defy Reality Entertainment.