The Pisces by Melissa Broder

15th Jun 2018

So sad today? Not for long, with this deliciously dark debut novel from poet Melissa Broder...

Lucy is in her late thirties, has recently split up from her commitment-phobic older boyfriend and has been working on a seemingly-doomed PhD on Sappho for nine years now.

She is lost, feels hopeless and yearns for some kind of escape – and she thinks she might have found it in a torrid love affair with a beautiful man she meets at the water’s edge one night.

But Theo is not all he seems, and what he asks of Lucy will force her to reassess her understanding of what love really is.

Although The Pisces is the debut novel by Melissa Broder, she’s built up a cult following through her poetry, her blackly hilarious Twitter account @sosadtoday and her essay collection of the same name.

If you’re familiar with her work, you’ll know what to expect: Melissa Broder isn’t afraid to explore the explicit, ugly and often obscene nature of our relationships with each other, and there are plenty of moments that had me breaking out into horrified laughter in public.

The sheer grim relish Melissa Broder takes in chronicling her characters falling from grace is impossible not to enjoy.If you have a weak stomach or a prudish streak, this might not be the book for you. Yet the unflinching forays into bodily fluids and disastrous Tinder hookups contrast with some of the most beautiful writing on loneliness, depression and the sheer agony of making a meaningful connection with another human being that I’ve read in years.

The Pisces is a work of fiction, with elements of magical realism, and yet Lucy feels like a cipher for Melissa Broder herself.

Broder trades on her honesty, her willingness to stare straight into the depths of her (or Lucy’s) own worst features, and it’s this vulnerability that makes The Pisces such a fascinating read. Lucy is a deeply flawed heroine who revels in her own self-destruction, as indeed do most of the characters.

Recurrent scenes take place within a group therapy setting, and these are some of the funniest and most poignant in the book, exploring the ways victimhood can be a story we tell ourselves to absolve ourselves of personal responsibility.

Although tackled with biting humour, there’s an incredible empathy in Broder’s writing: her characters are given the space to do terrible things and still allowed the chance to begin to redeem themselves, however messily.

While Lucy makes frequent reference to how cruel she is, the writing itself never slides into sermonising: rather, it simply acknowledges the self-centredness that mental health issues sometimes induce, without judgment.

The themes of disappearance and vanishing run deep through The Pisces, and it is at its heart an exploration of all the different ways humans try to deny the realities of their own existence.

It’s also a meditation on the paralysing effects of fear: there’s a dreamscape scene near the end of the book which neatly calls back to the famous ‘fig tree’ scene in The Bell Jar.

Yet despite the heavy themes, it’s still a genuinely fun read. The darker moments are written with such levity and candidness that it’s never a struggle to read, and the sheer grim relish Melissa Broder takes in chronicling her characters falling from grace over and over again is impossible not to enjoy.