In the near future, Anja is alarmed when her boyfriend Louis reveals that he has been creating a drug which will make people more generous. Louis sees the drug as the answer to social inequality, and the skyrocketing price of housing in Berlin. Anja isn't so sure. As the environment collapses, so does Anja's reality.
I adored Oval, Elvia Wilk’s 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 ... it’s to the book’s immense credit that it also happens to be savagely funny, a roasting of the 21st century workplace that makes Office Space look genial by comparison. Wilk has terrific fun puncturing the breathless hype around innovation culture, infusing her set pieces with the high-wire absurdist energy of a Marx Brothers movie ... the book bares its teeth in its closing chapters ... What Wilk exposes in these final pages, deftly, is not only the emptiness of 'innovation' or 'disruption' culture, but that a culture built around empty words can still result in very real, very devastating consequences.
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. (For her sake, the reader forgives occasional clichés in the world-building.) Oval wants to hold a dystopian mirror up to the way we live now, and sometimes its approach resembles that of the artist-consultants: airily grand, conjectural. Anja, who is pragmatic to a fault, mitigates against this ... 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 ... I finished the book feeling calmed by the evil that Wilk reveals. For the first time, the events felt almost improbable, like a bad dream.
Wilk’s first novel is a strange, vivid thought experiment ... Anja’s quiet, shy analysis turns a critical eye to our future, asking daring questions of how the desire to change the world for the better could instead turn on it a new kind of toxicity. 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.