Book review: Sad Girl Novel, Pip Finkemeyer

A fundamentally meta novel that plays with its own understated self-awareness.

Beginning paradoxically with a prologue from the end, author Pip Finkemeyer uses humour to encapsulate a clever set of contrasts. Initially a book about the protagonist’s desire to write, Sad Girl Novel moves towards transcendence through the process of creation. 

Kim is a young Australian woman living in Berlin, where she plays at adulthood and seeks validation. As a protagonist who unironically sees herself as quirky and ‘not like other girls’, Kim attempts to attain authenticity through adherence to the elevation of ego. Her emotional stability is contingent on the care of a motherly best friend, a wonderful/terrible therapist and a distant lover, who apparently exists in a cloud of transactional obsession. Vacillating between self-indulgence and self-loathing, Kim demands much of – but contributes little to – those upon whom she relies. 

Kim constantly flits between imposter syndrome and hopeful genius, seeking intrinsic value through external validation as she explores productivity as a stand-in for meaning. She wallows in flimsy excuses for misery, trying to force herself into a state of frenzied expression. Quick to criticise privilege in others (while remaining obstinately blind to her own), Kim’s fragile sense of adequacy renders her threatened by the wisdom and success of those she encounters. 

The narrative traces a backwards trend towards blaming the world as a means of denying accountable autonomy. Wanting to be taken care of by someone usually necessitates – by definition – an abdication of personal responsibility. But where is the line between privilege and delusion? Naive idealism and unethical selfishness? Disembodied desire versus romantic love? Sad Girl Novel explores these questions and more, without presuming to know the answers. 

Kim feels real. Her internal monologues never neglect the external world, despite the self-obsessed focus of a main character who definitely sees herself as such. Kim’s character arc is far from flat, and may even serve as a conduit for the exploration of self-erosion in exchange for perceived likeability. Eventually, Kim becomes an unwitting participant in a figurative falling dominoes line of people being fooled into following their dreams. 

An unexpected sleight of hand – revealed at the moment of transition – is perfectly foreshadowed and thematically brilliant, highlighting a rise from self-indulgence to conscious agency. The structural circularity of the story frames a treasured friendship from a bird’s-eye view, to nostalgic effect. This book is a labour of writerly love, devoted to projects conceived and delivered.

Read: Book review: Call me Marlowe, Catherine de Saint Phalle

Brimful of humorous one-liners, amusing aphorisms and subverted meme references, the author’s prose is colloquial, casual and occasionally irreverent. Kim’s character will resonate most strongly with readers under 30, but even those who don’t connect with her personality will find something tangible in this book to appreciate. Sad Girl Novel is fundamentally meta, and more self-aware than it presents itself as being. 

Sad Girl Novel by Pip Finkemeyer
Publisher: Ultimo Press
ISBN: 9781761152023
Format: Paperback
Categories: Fiction
Pages: 304pp
Release Date: June 2023
RRP:  $34.99

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.