Miranda Popkey‘s first novel is about desire, disgust, motherhood, loneliness, art, pain, feminism, anger, envy, guilt–written in language that sizzles with intelligence and eroticism. The novel is composed almost exclusively of conversations between women–the stories they tell each other, and the stories they tell themselves, about shame and love, infidelity and self-sabotage–and careens through twenty years in the life of an unnamed narrator hungry for experience and bent on upending her life. Edgy, wry, shot through with rage and despair, Topics of Conversation introduces an audacious and immensely gifted new novelist.
One of Time, The Washington Post, Hello Giggles, Apartment Therapy, Real Simple, and Entertainment Weekly’s Most Anticipated books of 2020
“Sally Rooney-esque… Popkey’s sentences careen breathlessly as her halting, staccato prose mirrors the “churning” within the narrator’s mind… Her manner of parceling out information evoke at times the fragmentary and diaristic sensibilities of Jenny Offill’s “Dept. of Speculation”… a shrewd record of the act of unflinchingly circling these amorphous notions of pain, desire and control.”
–The New York Times Book Review
“Slim but potent… has the flavor of Rachel Cusk… provocative… sure to spark conversation.”
–The New Yorker
“As she explores her own history through a shifting lens of female rivalries and friendships, the book’s surface coolness begins to peel away, revealing the raw, uncommon nerve of a radically honest storyteller.”
“Electrifying… Shrewd and sensual, Popkey’s debut carries the scintillating charge of a long-overdue girls’ night.”
–O, The Oprah Magazine
“Popkey’s lyrical debut novel reads like a series of short stories: Over the span of 20 years, an unnamed narrator has conversations with an eclectic set of women — conversations about shame and love, sexuality and power. Envy and guilt. Motherhood. Loneliness. The slim book is smart and raw, and Popkey dives head-on into difficult, well — how else to say it? — topics of conversation.”
–The Washington Post
A debut novel tightly wound around the narratives that women weave to make sense of their lives. The book follows conversations that the unnamed narrator has with other women – on the feminist guilt in enjoying rough sex and male dominance; on Freudian trajectories used to justify inaction; on the many subtle ways in which women indicate marital dissatisfaction.
The narrator speaks intimately both with women who tell crass, ugly stories and with women who craft beautiful, romantic ones and there is an excitement in this divulging – ‘There is, below the surface of every conversation in which intimacies are shared, an erotic current.‘
Despite its loose structure, character growth is apparent over the course of the novel. The narrator matures out of narratives to a woman who in motherhood realises that ‘my life, like the lives of most people, lacks an origin story. I mean one with any explanatory power. Which means that my son could turn out any way and for any reason or for no reason at all. I’m not sure if it’s irony but here it is, at last I’ve found the thing I do want to control, and of course I can’t.’
The book is sometimes difficult to read because its stream of consciousness style has a tenuous relationship with punctuation, but I found it insightful and impressive nonetheless.