Bizarre weather. Unprecedented economic disparity. Artists employed by corporations. And the ultimate work of art: Oval, a pill that increases generosity. This unforgettable debut novel asks questions of empathy and power on every scale–from bodies to bureaucracies–to create an unsettling portrait of the future.
In the near future, Berlin’s real estate is being flipped in the name of “sustainability,” only to make the city even more unaffordable; artists are employed by corporations as consultants, and the weather is acting strange. When Anja and Louis are offered a rent-free home on an artificial mountain–yet another eco-friendly initiative run by a corporation–they seize the opportunity, but it isn’t long before the experimental house begins malfunctioning.
After Louis’s mother dies, Anja is convinced he has changed. At work, Louis has become obsessed with a secret project: a pill called Oval that temporarily rewires the user’s brain to be more generous. While Anja is horrified, Louis believes he has found the solution to Berlin’s income inequality. Oval is a fascinating portrait of the unbalanced relationships that shape our world, as well as a prescient warning of what the future may hold.
“A fascinating near-future exploration of relationships, sustainability, and power. An extraordinarily accomplished debut novel.” –Jeff VanderMeer, author of Borne and Annihilation
“Elvia Wilk’s Oval is a marvel. At the core of this seductive, acute, superbly-contemporary update of mid-period J.G. Ballard lies a deep-beating, deep-dreaming heart.” –Jonathan Lethem
Elvia Wilk’s Oval is a marvel. At the core of this seductive, acute, superbly contemporary update of midperiod J. G. Ballard lies a deep-beating, deep-dreaming heart.
A fascinating near-future exploration of relationships, sustainability, and power. An extraordinarily accomplished debut novel.
The book feints toward an Ottessa Moshfegh-style ennui, the kind of tragic vision that disguises itself as satire. But Oval has a warm center in Anja, who is friendlier, more approachable, less alienating and alienated than the typical Moshfegh heroine . . . [Anja] is finely observed and solid, capable of both banter and feeling . . . When Wilk examines social behavior, her attention snags in all the right places . . . Like Oedipus or Othello, characters in Oval can neither alter their destiny nor anticipate its shape. Yet Wilk entwines a classical sensibility with biological determinism--she almost suggests that humans have reached the final phase of a natural decomposition process, like cells programmed to grow and then atrophy.
Elvia Wilk’s novel Oval is like an ever-expanding sphere . . . It would be beautiful satire if it didn’t all ring so true.
Set in Berlin in the near future, Oval is a wry and timely novel that speaks to some of the biggest issues shaping today’s society: the effects of climate change, the growth of corporate conglomerations, the (over)reach of health care, and the role of the artist who explores all of this.
Deeply weird and unsettlingly hilarious, Wilk’s dystopian debut pushes the grim absurdities of the present just a little bit further, into a near future that’s too plausible for comfort . . . The book’s true surprise is its startling emotional kick: If the circumstances are heightened to extremes, the relationships--with their delicate dynamics--are all too real. Witty and alarming, a satire with (unexpected) heart.
A high-minded, intelligent novel . . . Oval strikes a note that will vibrate with Wilk’s contemporaries.
Oval . . . impressively recasts an all-too-familiar Berlin corporate-artistic landscape.
In Elvia Wilk’s brilliant, biting debut novel, Oval, the world is weird. This isn’t to say it’s unrecognizable. In fact, the specific weirdness of this world is what makes it so familiar; this dystopia bears contours as intimately known as those of our own face.
This weird and hilarious dystopian story gives a grim view of today’s society and the terrifying repercussions our actions might have in the future. A consummate marathon read!
Wilk’s debut novel is a strange, vivid thought experiment. In a near-future Berlin, scientist Anja lives in an eco-settlement on an artificial mountain . . . Anja’s quiet, shy analysis turns a critical eye to our future, asking daring questions of how the desire to change our world for the better could instead turn it a new kind of toxic. Wilk makes the reader ponder how relying on corporations to invest in art and sustainability could put us on a perilous path: in Anja’s world, artists are corporate entities and the drive toward sustainability gentrifies communities. Oval is a book of plot twists and turns that roots itself in Anja’s relatable, practical soul, and scientific passion for inquiry.
Elvia Wilk’s debut novel, Oval, exquisitely depicts the exhaustion of trying to maintain your footing among the reality distortions of 21st-century companies like Google.
Oval is one for the sci-fi nerds out there who want to get their hands on some legit brilliant literature.
A blistering diagnosis of how today’s social structures have shaped us . . . Wilk is astute at rendering the social comedy of our malaise . . . Much of Oval’s conceptual heft derives from the technicolor detail of Wilk’s high-minded observations. It’s why the book feels not just convincingly dystopian but also keenly attuned to the ills of our moment . . . [Wilk] has DeLillo’s gift for revealing microscopic social interactions as whole paradigmatic traits of the way we look and live today. But, ultimately, she’s also onto something more ephemeral than the field of visibility can express . . . In its willingness to draw characters both complex and unresolved--to observe the shadows in their composition--[Oval] transcends its influences.
Soft Skull has a reputation for provocative, striking, and genre-bending prose, and Oval is no exception." --Sarah Neilson, The Brooklyn Rail
"Elvia Wilk’s debut novel Ovalis a speculative meditation on the evil humans do--to the planet and to each other. It’s also a distinctly millennial love story and a sometimes sharp and sometimes meandering critique of modern society."
Oval stuns in its exploration of contemporary psychology and the surrounding environment that informs it . . . Oval asks if we can control our lovers, how we can build our own families, and how it can be done while rent on earth skyrockets to uninhabitable."
Oval offers commentary on capitalism, consultants, drugs, climate change, and more--but it’s more than commentary. It’s smart and enjoyable and a little bit terrifying.
Oval is a dark and riveting critique of gentrification and the art world.
Wilk has crafted a novel that shrewdly pokes fun at the urban creative class by fashioning a series of vignettes that make the New Yorker’s Talk of the Town downright drab.
An uncanny story of dread. In Wilk’s hands, the backslide of society, real society, into the late-stage capitalism apocalypse feels inevitable in light of her deftly told and deliberately paced harbinger of our own doom. Oval deserves to be read widely; put this at the top of Alex Garland’s next book-to-movie adaptation project list.
Elvia Wilk’s brave new world--in which artists have become consultants for corporations, and environmental action is above all else an aesthetic--is not so far from our own.
Wryly funny, dark, and smart, Oval is squarely in the tradition of Margaret Atwood’s other dystopian masterpiece, the Madaddam trilogy." --Siobhan Adcock, Betches, 1 of 5 Chilling Dystopian Novels by Women
"A gleefully acerbic satire of class, greenwashing, disruption culture, and yes, ’authenticity.’ A searing depiction of big tech’s habit of stealing our souls only to sell them back at 200% list price, Oval is kind of like The Jungle for the age of late capitalism, if The Jungle gave fewer fucks and was blessed with an A+ sense of irony. Anyone who’s ever been creeped out by Google’s targeted ads or Siri’s manufactured friendliness will find much to love in Wilk’s droll skepticism, let alone anyone who’s witnessed the toxic absurdity of tech culture firsthand. I cackled through every page."
Oval is a coming-of-age novel for a world at the precipice of its own end.
Elvia Wilk’s brutal new satire Oval is a lot of things--including a condemnation of gentrification under the guise of environmentalism, and a critique of how well-meaning people try and fail to change humanity for the better. But at its heart, the novel feels like a prolonged elegy for the art world, a coming-of-age story in which maturity is defined by the ability to leave a tired scene behind . . . Wilk’s real skill is in sketching an entire society that has thrown up its hands in the face of corporate dominance . . . Oval is a sharp weapon, both a provocation and a reckoning.
[Wilk’s] skills as an interdisciplinary wordsmith are present in her debut novel Oval, which falls into the category of ’New Weird’--a genre of speculative fiction which is neither science fiction nor fantasy, but which explores unknown entities at the fringes of human consciousness. Through her excellent world building, we are plunged into a warped version of our city, where hipsters are inventing apps to trade social capital, where the seasons change on a daily basis, and where the housing crisis has been green-washed by corporations like Finster, who buy up properties under the pretense of making them eco-friendlier . . . Wilk puts society into a Petri dish and watches it squirm; her piercingly astute critique of social choreographies, gender roles, and the smoke and mirrors of corporate lingo feels unsettlingly close. This seminal work is at once tragic, tender and ominous, and will make its mark on Berlin’s literary timeline.
Oval constructs a universe of grotesque gloom, where increasingly erratic weather triggers conspiracy theories and investor-patrons collect the shrunken heads of their artists who died before the terms of contract ended . . . In spite of Oval’s pessimism, there’s an underlying motivation to think through issues imaginatively with the aim of finding better alternatives.
Oval is Don DeLillo’s White Noise updated for 2019 minus the satire of academia plus a layer of millennial discontent . . . Swift plot, lotta underlineable sentences, what’s not to love.
With wit and precision, Elvia Wilk pinpoints the moment when neoliberalism metastasizes into something far more sinister.
"So good, so dark, so funny, so cruelly smart about where we are and where we’re going. This book is a petri dish growing a new strain of heartbreak. I’m sick with love for it."
J. G. Ballard meets William Gibson meets Jeff VanderMeer. Oval is an up-to-the-minute story about the twilight zones of corporate design, aesthetics, pharmacy, and bioengineering, where there’s nothing consultants won’t break in the quest for ’innovation.’ What could possibly go wrong? Find out in Elvia Wilk’s crisp and stylish debut book.
Wonderfully clever and beguiling. The circle may be absolute, but the oval remains restless and bursts with potential.
As a social comedy of modern relationships and gentrifying Berlin, Elvia Wilk’s debut is exquisitely funny and exquisitely well observed. But it also has something weirder spliced into its DNA: fragments of the future that transform this story into a fabulous biopunk hybrid that’s not quite like anything else I’ve ever read.
A story about art and capitalism, about compromise and responsibility, the creeping terror of calculation, and the absolute redundancy of the new . . . Though Oval is a fiction set in a dystopian future Berlin, there is something horribly congruous about the world it describes, including its hypothetical drug. Even now, I can imagine it making perfect sense, if only to persons fully insulated from the problems it sets out to solve . . . Oval is a dystopia that reveals the fractures of the present.
Everything is work--mourning, clubbing, reading your partner’s moods. And everything is a scam--plants that become buildings, jobs that become consultancies, apps that become jobs. With astonishing emotional accuracy, Oval records what it feels like to hover between two poles.
Wilk’s novel creates a dystopian future that doesn’t seem all that far-fetched . . . That future we’re building for ourselves, natural or otherwise, is both the villain and the center of the story. It’s human-scale, modern climate fiction, and the gripping eeriness comes from the sense that those future fears might not be very far away from right now.