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What Makes a Millennial Novel?


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In The Guardian, novelist Olivia Sudjic tackles the thorny question of what makes a millennial novel. Expressing skepticism about the very idea of a “millennial novel,” which sounds suspiciously like a publishing-industry marketing term, Sudjic (herself a millennial) nonetheless teases out certain resonances among novels by and about anxiety-ridden young adults today. She suggests that novels like Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends, Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, and Ling Ma’s Severance reveal a deep disenchantment with the world into which the characters were born, but also a despair or cynicism about realizing a different world. Check out an excerpt from the piece below.

The crop of recent novels that have been termed “millennial” depict a rootless, anxious life: a rat race whose illusory prize for sacrificing your soul is a bare minimum of social acceptance and financial security. Their protagonists tend to be navigating or avoiding adulthood, usually desperate, disenfranchised, displaced, ironic, full of rage or grim humour that covers unbearable shame and sadness. Rather than the violence and amorality described in a previous “generation-defining” book such as Ellis’s Less Than Zero, they tend toward self-sabotage or perform cheeriness under constant surveillance while slowly dying inside. And did I mention the humour?

These may be the characteristics of the genre, but there is still no consensus on whether a “millennial novel” is qualified by an author’s age or that of its main protagonists, or even the age of the readers it is marketed to. I would argue that it is two things taken together: the age of the novelist (born between 1981 and 1996) and the novel’s own mood and preoccupations – even when these are not set in the immediate present.

Image of Olivia Sudjic via The Times.