Wallace has spent his summer in the lab breeding a strain of microscopic worms. He is four years into a biochemistry degree at a lakeside Midwestern university, a life that’s a world away from his childhood in Alabama.
His father died a few weeks ago, but Wallace didn’t go back for the funeral, and he hasn’t told his friends – Miller, Yngve, Cole and Emma. For reasons of self-preservation, he has become used to keeping a wary distance even from those closest to him.
But, over the course of one blustery end-of-summer weekend, the destruction of his work and a series of intense confrontations force Wallace to grapple with both the trauma of the past, and the question of the future.
Deftly zooming in and out of focus, Real Life is a deeply affecting story about the emotional cost of reckoning with desire, and overcoming pain.
‘This debut is a fresh take on the age-old ‘campus novel’ tradition, providing a deeply painful, nuanced account of microaggressions, abuse, racism, homophobia, trauma, grief and alienation. We admired the vivid ways the book evokes daily, repetitive action as well as memory and fantasy to get at its profound central question: what is ‘real life’ anyway?’
Booker Prize judges
‘With the rigour of the laboratory, Taylor wields scalpel-like prose, putting human behaviours under the microscope . . . precise and masterly.’
‘An elegant take on the “campus novel” and a deeply moving study of race, grief and desire.’
‘Real Life is a tender, deeply-felt, perfectly-paced novel about solitude and society, sexuality and race. It explores what the past means and, with brilliance and sympathy, dramatizes the intricacies of love and grief.’
‘A stunning debut . . . There is delicacy in the details of working in a lab full of microbes and pipettes that dances across the pages like the feet of a Cunningham dancer: pure, precise poetry.’
New York Times
‘A manual for life that I wish I’d had sooner.’
Naoise Dolan, author of Exciting Times
‘A campus novel imagined from the vantage of a character who is usually shunted to the sidelines . . . [Taylor] endows his narrative with the precision of science and the intimacy of memoir.’
The New Yorker
‘Extraordinary, brilliant, claustrophobic, tightly wound, heartbreaking. I do not have enough words to describe how I loved this book.’
Daisy Johnson, author of Everything Under
‘With extraordinary intimacy, generosity, exactitude and candour, Brandon Taylor’s Real Life depicts a highly discomforting weekend in the life of a biomedical grad student and, in so doing, exposes the enormous chasm between one person and their lover, friend, lab mate, acquaintance, fellow citizen. A nuanced, devastating and singular novel.’
Caoilinn Hughes, author of Orchid and the Wasp
‘I devoured Real Life in a couple of sittings. The prose shines and sings, Taylor affording complexity and nuance to his characters in this very assured debut.’
Caleb Azumah Nelson, author of Open Water
‘Brandon Taylor’s genius lies in the elaboration of ever more revelatory gradations of feeling; in his extraordinary debut he invents new tools for navigating the human dark in which we know one another.’
Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You
‘One of the finest fiction debuts I’ve read in the last decade ‒ elegant and brutal.’
Esmé Weijun Wang, author of The Collected Schizophrenias
‘There is writing so exceptional that it demands reverence. Brandon Taylor writes so powerfully about so many things ‒ the perils of graduate education, blackness in a predominantly white setting, loneliness, desire, trauma, need.’
Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist
‘Real Life asks questions many of us shy from . . . Amid the flurry of new novels drifting down like so many balloons, Real Life is the one weighted with confetti.’
‘Luminous, from the very first sentence to the last . . . a stunning novel that won’t be easily forgotten.’