Books

Chrysalis review: A fascinating look at narcissism in the modern world

Anna Metcalfe's original debut explores the creepy, voyeuristic side of life as an online influencer with a telling eye for detail

Chrysalis book cover

Anna Metcalfe’s debut novel, Chrysalis, keeps a sense of distance from its unnamed protagonist – a young woman who has risen from an abusive relationship to become an online influencer. We are provided with three narratives describing her from a former partner, her mother, and an ex-colleague, all musing on how much, or otherwise, they ever knew her before she discarded them in her quest to become something more, something larger. The woman uses gym work to develop her body in the wake of trauma, and gradually becomes a meditating life guru, who casually asks her many followers to cut themselves off from those in their lives that they feel aren’t serving their goals.

It’s a fascinating look at narcissism and popularity in the modern world, and the oddly distant structure adds to the discombobulation. How much can we ever really know someone else? How much do we need those around us? Metcalfe manages to make these questions engaging despite that distance, through a telling eye for specific details. The recounted stories of our three narrators have a creepy voyeuristic nature to them, mirroring the current obsession for every little inside detail of the rich and famous. Chrysalis has enough originality and bite about it to suggest Metcalfe has a long and interesting writing career ahead of her. 

Doug Johnstone is an author and journalist 

Chrysalis book cover

Chrysalis by Anna Metcalfe is out now (Granta, £14.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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