book review: The New Me by Halle Butler
Characters: 4 There's not a character you're probably going to love in this book, but that doesn't mean they're not interesting. Butler seems to have a fascination with the worst or most unfortunate aspects of people's personalities and how they play out in day to day life. Millie starts off seeming quite abrasive in her almost hostile negative attitude towards life and all of its most minute details. While there's definitely external factors and depression involved, Millie's unrelenting negativity mixed with a weirdly warped superiority complex makes her hard to have sympathy for, but there's still something compelling that keeps you hoping she'll figure it out. There is a quiet, subtle shift in her that unfolds in a satisfying whisper throughout the book.
The rest of the characters only make short appearances. There's Millie's best friend, Sarah, who's not much of a best friend. They're terrible at supporting each other and have a toxic dynamic in every way. There's Millie's bosses who are abjectly terrible and somewhat self obsessed. On the positive end, Millie has her parents who financially and emotionally support her, stepping in when things get bleakest in a nonjudgemental way given everything that's happening. Everyone in this novel (with the exception of Millie's parents) are totally self absorbed, and that side of them is particularly emphasized through the window Butler peers in from.
Plot: 4 For this being a book about trying to get a full time job in one particular office and the monotony of temp work, it was actually pretty interesting. There's a lot to break down about a character with as strong of a personality as Millie, but Butler also does an impressive job of creating stakes and urgency through each day of the process making the tiny things feel like life or death. A lot of time, they actually are. I wasn't ever fully sure where the details were heading even though it's clear from the start that Millie is pretty hopeless in assimilating into office culture.
Writing: 4 I honestly almost DNF'd the book after the first few chapters. Millie is just very intense at the beginning, and I wasn't sure if I could sit with her for an entire book with everything else going on in my life. But, then, the next chapter took a turn. Suddenly, it wasn't Millie's first person narration but a third person view of her supervisor plotting her employment demise. This is a fascinating facet of the book and allows this tiny story to get bigger because the reader knows intimate details of Millie's life and thoughts but also get to hold cards that Millie is unaware of at the time. This heightens the tension as Millie makes plans for her life on assumptions the reader knows is false. It's a really smart narrative choice with a character like Millie, but it's admittedly hard to pull off in a way that makes sense.
The literary world loves an antihero and Butler delivers here. There's parts of Millie that are definitely relatable in ways that make you further interrogate yourself, and given the popularity of Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead, it makes sense that this book is popping up all over my Explore page as well. There's a very similar voice, feel, and conflict in this book.
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