Like many other avid television watchers out there, I am a massive fan of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag. The Amazon Prime Original show, which takes place in London, follows the story of a woman known only as Fleabag who, after the death of her mother and the loss of her best friend, has taken to using sexual promiscuity and general cynicism to cope with her life. The show, while hilarious and entertaining, can be deeply emotional and challenging as well.
Two seasons of Fleabag are out on Prime (the second season is likely the best written television series I’ve ever watched), but it doesn’t seem likely Waller-Bridge will be releasing a new installment anytime soon. Since I’ve seen so many people mourning the potential end of this wonderful series, I thought I’d put together a list of books that capture the same sentiments as Fleabag. These books, like Fleabag herself, are funny, provocative, introspective and deeply emotional in the most entertaining way possible. They centre around self-destructive women who want to change but really don’t know how.
1. My Year of Rest & Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
A young woman decides to spend a year of her life in hibernation in the hope that it will cure her misanthropy and apathy. The unnamed protagonist of My Year of Rest & Relaxation is a lot like Fleabag - fed up with everything and desperate to feel something. She can be vile and incredibly unkind at times, but there’s always a sense that something more lurks beneath the surface, pushed down by the tragedy of losing both of her parents.
2. The New Me by Halle Butler
A young woman struggles to find her way in life, temping in secretary jobs and constantly dreaming of something more. The problem is that her constant daydreaming may actually be distracting her from the things she needs to do in the present, trapping her in an inescapable circle of repetition and disappointment. Like Fleabag, The New Me’s central character has a lot to say, though isn’t always clear on the best way to say it. She wants to change, but she isn’t equipped with the tools to effectively do it.
3. Vacuum In The Dark by Jen Beagin
Twenty-six-year-old housecleaner Mona moved to New Mexico for a boyfriend who ended up being terrible. Now she’s got another boyfriend and her attempts at getting her life on track aren’t going so well. As she struggles with trauma from her past and a series of peculiar clients, Mona finds herself on a journey of self-discovery. Like Fleabag, Mona refers to her bad boyfriends with nicknames like Mr. Disgusting and Dark (think “The Priest” in season 2), and has a bit of a habit of choosing already-taken men. Like Fleabag she’s hindered by loss and sadness in her past, but determined to make the most of life.
4. The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff
A young woman returns to her mystical small town upon discovering that she is pregnant and reunites with many of the peculiar characters who made her life so strange to begin with. Like Fleabag, The Monsters of Templeton is about complex family relationships, the difficulties of opening yourself up to love, and the profound trauma of loss. It’s funny, moving and written in Lauren Groff trademark lyrical prose.
5. The Pisces by Melissa Broder
Perhaps the best book for capturing Fleabag’s flagrant, unabashed sexuality, The Pisces tells the story of a Ph.D. candidate named Lucy who moves to California to house sit for her wealthy sister after a bad breakup. She begins a bizarre and passionate relationship with a man who may or may not be a merman, joins an addicts groups, and struggles to finish her dissertation as reality starts to slip. The Pisces captures the uproarious humour and complete chaos of Fleabag’s life, and adds a bit of a mystical twist to an otherwise highly relatable story.
6. Severance by Ling Ma
Severance is Fleabag with an apocalyptic twist. A young Chinese-American woman continues to go to her job every single day even after all of her coworkers have succumbed to an illness ravaging the United States. Eventually forced to join a band of survivors, the young woman reminisces on the bleak, mundane chain of events that led to her current predicament. Like Fleabag, Severance’s main character Candace has trouble connecting with coworkers, friends and family in appropriate ways.
7. Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino
The only non-fiction book in the bunch, Trick Mirror is a collection of essays that explores the challenges of living in the 21st century. From financial despair to the ever-changing concept of self, New Yorker essayist Jia Tolentino captures all of the things we’ve all been thinking but haven’t been able to articulate. These real world problems are beautifully reflected in Fleabag, and are part of the reason the show has drawn so many people in.
8. Milkman by Anna Burns
Milkman, set in Northern Ireland during The Troubles of the 1990s, is about a young woman living in a world with suffocating restrictions and oppressive social expectations. Like Fleabag, the narrator in Milkman is dealing with significant loss, complex relationships, and a quirky family. Although Milkman is set in the midst of conflict, many of its themes mirror those of Fleabag in modern day London. Milkman also perfectly captures the whip-smart, lightning-fast humour of Fleabag’s scripts.