A School Where the Student Body Is Obsessed With Student Bodies
“And so many fat people. Why are they all so fat, sir?”
“Because of capitalism, Lissa.”
Thomas’s humor has a sharp, rhythmic perfection. Her prose is fast-thinking, entertaining and punchy, her dialogue fully authentic without sinking into the tedium of real-life conversation.
“Oligarchy” is a study in obsessiveness pinned to a vague, whodunit structure we don’t really need, with a couple of barely felt deaths thrown in. But in Thomas’s hands we don’t care: If the back story has the quality of a flippant gesture, frankly, what of it? In the best fiction, plot is strictly nonmandatory. We shift and slide among perspectives, from omniscience to Tash and Bianca and Rachel and even some ancient, half-fossilized teachers, and hardly notice the sequence of events. Intriguing, fluid and frequently funny interior monologues are what Thomas does best.
No one here is an angel, except on the surface: The girls are as flawed as any of us. But they’re also formidable. Tash is a survivor, while at least one of her friends ends up dead, but dead or alive, all the girls in the novel are strong — when they want something, they usually get it.
They easily manipulate most of their teachers, for example, persuading one of them to let them take their backpacks shopping so they’ll be able to hide the booze and cigarettes they buy:
“Miss Annabel has already eyed the rucksacks suspiciously but been told firmly that this is for the environment, because doesn’t she understand that we don’t have a Planet B? Doesn’t she know how many turtles have to be killed to produce one plastic bag?”
It would be glib to fail to mention the sadness hidden in the folds of this novel’s dark playfulness — particularly the sadness of its protagonists’ relentless self-objectification. These Gen Z girls may not care much about men or the so-called male gaze, but as it turns out, that doesn’t set them free. Their own gaze is brutal enough.