cover image Oligarchy


Scarlett Thomas. Counterpoint, $26 (208p) ISBN 978-1-64009-306-5

Thomas’s satisfying, keenly observed latest (after The Seed Collectors) takes place at an unnamed all-girls boarding school in the English countryside, where the girls, all from well-off families, spend their one hour of Wi-Fi every day catching on Instagram and Snapchat. Natasha—Tash to the rest of the girls—has just arrived from Russia, where she’d lived a humble life with her mother until her previously absent father brought her to England and into a new stratosphere of wealth, complete with a glamorous aunt in London and an American Express Black Card. Though Tash is welcomed at the school, she also must learn the language of starvation and thigh gaps, where the girls take turns inventing increasingly severe diets for the rest to follow: no butter, no tomatoes, cake only, etc. Thomas’s depiction of the image-driven hive mind that dictates adolescent girls’ relationships is spot-on, and the girls get thinner and thinner, especially as they receive the tacit approval of the creepy headmaster Dr. Moone, who seems to favor the skinniest girls. When one of their group dies under mysterious circumstances, Tash realizes the precariousness and danger of this new, moneyed world of which she’s now part. Though Thomas’s characters get a lot of flak for being insufferable rich girls from outsiders in the novel—and they are—she’s captured with an empathetic eye all the brutal, visceral, and surprisingly funny aspects of teenage girlhood. This is a sharp, astute novel. [em](Jan.) [/em]