It’s boring to begin a review of The New Me by Halle Butler with comparisons to Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation or Eileen but the books are all very similar in style and vibe (so it stands to reason if you loathe Moshfegh, Butler might not be your cup of tea).
Personally, I very much enjoyed The New Me, a novel that is tightly focused on a young woman, Millie, her temp job in an office, and her lonely hours after work.
I think I’m drawn to temp work for the slight atmospheric changes. The new offices and coworkers provide a nice illusion of variety. Like how people switch out their cats’ wet food from Chicken and Liver to Sea Bass, but in the end, it’s all just flavored anus.
Particular attention is paid to interactions – with colleagues (most of whom she views with disdain, despite desperately wanting a permanent job); her one self-absorbed friend; and strangers, who give the reader a detached, but clear glimpse of Millie.
What was most interesting to me was Millie’s anger, shifting from seething to rage. Butler finds a new way to describe it on virtually every page –
…I was raised correctly and in a good home, and it’s an insult to my mother, the professor, to imply that she named me Madison after the mermaid from fucking Splash, when I was named after my great-great-grandmother, a suffragette, you fucking thankless cunt, and in this fantasy, I become insensible and start crying, deep from the gut, which isn’t much of a fantasy, as far as fun and variety are concerned.
Millie’s criticisms of others equally apply to herself, and it’s her lack of self awareness that propels the story to its very clever conclusion.
Each beat of my heart sends a tightening feeling through my torso. A list of things I could have: peace, stability, a clean winter coat, a Swatch, a haircut, boots both warm and fashionable, a good body, nonthreatening relationships, a clean kitchen, someone to talk to, really I would take anyone.
If you feel like a story that is intense, claustrophobic, dark, and changes the script (from the confused-what-do-I-do-with-my-life-and-looking-for-love-Millennial to openly-cynical-Millennial-who-never-mentions-love), The New Me will fit the bill.
At home, I make brussels sprouts for dinner. They’re covered in olive oil and likely too much vinegar, but the hissing sound, the fanfare of it all, sounds good.
As part of the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, I’m comparing the Belfast summer and Melburnian winter. The results for the day I finished this book (June 17): Belfast 9°-18° and Melbourne 8°-13°.
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I know my preoccupations are different from other people’s but almost the first thing I look for in a book is where it is set, what the story tells me about the people of that city, that country. I see you’ve tagged it American, so I guess that answers that, but don’t you think the story would be different or have different meanings if it were set in Melbourne, London, Paris, Lagos?
And an odd thing to get angry about, people not knowing after whom you were named.
I checked to see if I could borrow it. Borrowbox has lots of Butlers, including Georgette Heyer’s Who shot the Butler?, but no Halles.
Well I love Moshfegh so this sounds great, though a little more millennial perhaps (the narrator of MYORAR is GenX, it’s my hill to die on lol)
This does sound very intense – the voice captures anger so well. One for when I’m feeling resilient and won’t come away feeling too overwhelmed by it all!