Reviewed: Green Dot, Madeleine Gray, Allen & Unwin
Sharper observers than I have written on the problems of the quid-pro-quo blurb industry, the lack of critical culture around Australian novels, and the labour conditions that are responsible for this budding dynamic. Such is the environment that produces descriptions of extremely middling work as possessing ‘sheer brilliance’. In this vibes-based environment, Green Dot inadvertently summarises itself midway: ‘The upstairs is a restaurant, with the same gingham tablecloths I imagine they used in The Sopranos, having never watched The Sopranos.’
The novel begins as Hera gets a job as a content moderator for a Guardian-esque online newspaper. This could have been interesting: how much hateful commentary can a person be exposed to and remain psychologically sound? What are the ethical bounds of public discourse, particularly online where relative anonymity can result in a certain audacity not usually performed during face-to-face conversations? But these questions are not explored. Work simply bores Hera. It is her first ‘real job’ after years of arts degrees. Although she has no desire to work, Hera feels that she must participate in the narrative of her own life. ‘Fair enough, content production it is, I say to myself as I stretch my fingers like Mr Burns.’
At work, Hera makes one friend, ‘funny and depressed’ Mei Ling, who doesn’t seem to have any traits beyond this brief description, and who Hera DMs through the company intranet during the day about their boring middle-aged co-worker. Again, this could have been a fun romp as readers are invited into their world of office gossip, but Mei Ling suffers from a severe indistinctness, as do Gray’s other characters. Events and observations only exist for our narrator. While this could be a clumsy demonstration of millennial solipsism, I suspect not, as it seems neither Hera nor Gray is in on the joke. After a scouring week at this job, she begins an affair with Arthur, an older, married colleague, whom she meets in the lift at work. After this, it is simply the sign that he is online that she lives by—at work, on Instagram. ‘He is not up. I can see there is no green dot.’
Initially, there is a Twilight-y frisson—in their met gazes and glancing touches—between Hera and her journalist fellow, but this empties out as their tryst begins proper. Things happen quickly: they are immediately in love. ‘The fact that he knows all the African nations off by heart is actually divine to me,’ Hera sighs admirably at one point. She imagines herself holding his baby. ‘When I feel him enter me, I experience a moment of clarity. This feeling is something I will fight for,’ she thinks to herself as they have sex for the first time in her childhood bedroom. Hera demands that he leave his wife. He says that he will, then doesn’t. But the plot doesn’t matter—its characters may as well be mouthpieces for the book’s online idiolect: ‘Can’t wait to have you on the team! Like, yes you can? What are we DOING? Zelda was GASLIT.’
On the surface, Green Dot appears as a novel by and for the extremely online young urban woman, such as Patricia Lockwood’s harrowing Nobody Is Talking About This, or a productivity experiment like Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation. But Lockwood’s novel begins as a fragmentary experience of the internet, then reveals its true subject as that which only exists in the flesh, a joyous nostalgia of the digital remembrances we have lost. Likewise, Moshfegh crafts a character responding to the boredom of existing in a way that is elaborately repugnant rather than simply familiar. These novels are funny, and capture the frightening feeling that we have lost something that costs far too much. Green Dot, however, is instantly dated by the nowness of its humour. Afflicted with horniness, Hera wanks in the toilet at work. She informs Arthur via DM, who replies: ‘Tell me you made Emmeline Pankhurst proud.’
But Hera and Arthur do break up, after which she delivers a monologue about his deficiencies. Here I felt relief, having finally concluded the aesthetically horrible experience of reading GIF descriptions in a printed work, like the ‘Victorian doll meme’, or ‘the one where Salem the talking cat from Sabrina the Teenage Witch does some weird stilted puppet mwahaha laughter’. While the novel may entertain the idea of building something vertiginous from the shared language of the extremely online, it regrettably does not match the ambition of its influences. Green Dot is artless; it is book-as-content, a relatability exercise.