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A collage of images featuring two crying eyes, a pile of books and a wilting flower.

Why So Sad, Girl

with Madeleine Gray, Neha Kale and Jessie Tu, moderated by Bridie Jabour

10 March 2024

In the Studio

Sydney Opera House Presents

Talks and Ideas

The new ‘Sad Girl Novel’ has officially hit market saturation. Why has the last six years of contemporary fiction been so gripped by this trope - and can the sad girl ever get happy?

Co-curated by Bri Lee

The superlative embodiment of an alluring silhouette: a woman contoured and whittled by her suffering.

Leslie Jamison, The Cult of the Literary Sad Woman, The New York Times 

What’s really behind the doom and gloom?

It’s the literary phenomenon that has no end. Every month, a new ‘Sad Girl Novel’ hits the shelves. Privileged young female protagonists are unfulfilled by sex and their careers; they are deep in their thoughts and feelings, complicated, full of self-loathing, and self-absorbed. It’s as if they have landed on some great insight that the rest of us don’t see. (Except perhaps the millions of us who buy these books.) What’s driving this seemingly insatiable appetite? Is it simply that life actually does suck and we know it and, finally, we feel seen? And why does the sad girl attract so much eye-rolling critique? Is this just another way sideline art made by and for women? 

Join this panel of practitioners and critics of the trope, who will dig even deeper than the sad girl herself to come to some possibly surprising takes. 

Presented by Sydney Opera House


Madeleine Gray (she/her)

Madeleine Gray is a writer and critic from Sydney. She has written for the Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, BBC, Electric Literature, Sydney Review of Books, and other publications. In 2019, she was a CA-SRB Emerging Critic, and in 2021 she was a finalist for the Pascall Prize for Arts Criticism, a finalist for the Woollahra Digital Literary Non-Fiction Award, and a recipient of a Neilma Sidney Literary Travel Fund grant. She has an MSt in English from the University of Oxford and is a current doctoral candidate at the University of Manchester. Green Dot is her first novel.

A white woman with short red hair sitting at a desk.
Neha Kale (she/her)

Neha Kale is a widely-published writer. For more than a decade, her criticism, essays, features, and reportage on art, contemporary culture, and society have appeared in many Australian and international publications including The Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian, ArtReview, Art Guide Australia, SBS, ABC, Vogue, Kill Your Darlings, and more. She currently writes a fortnightly column for The Saturday Paper called The Influence and was formerly the editor and editor-at-large of VAULT magazine.

An Australian, Indian women with curled black hair.
Jessie Tu (she/her)

Jessie Tu is a journalist at Women’s Agenda, and a book critic at The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. Her debut novel, A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing, was released in 2020, winning the Australian Book Industry Awards Literary Fiction Book of the Year. Her second novel, The Honeyeater, is set to be released this July.

A Taiwanese, Australian woman with long hair standing in front of a rusty wall.
Bridie Jabour (she/her) Moderator

Bridie Jabour is the co-host of Cool Story with Bri & Bridie. She’s the opinion editor at Guardian Australia and the author of two books. Her latest is the collection of essays Trivial Grievances.

A white women with short curly brown hair, and bright red lipstick.

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