Modern relationships in fiction: books to swipe right for

Algorithms. Apps. The endless scroll. Twenty-first century connection can be a minefield – as can writing about it. Here are the books we think are doing it well. 

How do we successfully meet, fall in love and stay in love – or just hook up – in a world that's increasingly polarised and increasingly online? And how do we successfully write about it, when the way we communicate is increasingly challenging to capture in a way that feels authentic and unforced rather heavy-handed and clumsy? Here's our pick of books exploring dating, sex and relationships in the modern world and doing so with insight and elegance – and often a bit of darkness as well.

For more great book suggestions, take a look at our pick of the best literary fiction books to read right now.

Wellness

by Nathan Hill

How does a relationship formed in the '90s survive in the increasingly futuristic-feeling 2010s? Coming up against polyamorous would-be suitors, Facebook wars and cults disguised as mindfulness support groups, Jack and Elizabeth must face their separate demons in order to stay together. Moving from the gritty '90s Chicago art scene to a suburbia of detox diets and home renovation hysteria, Wellness mines the absurdities of modern technology and modern love to reveal profound, startling truths about intimacy and connection.

We Had to Remove This Post

by Hanna Bervoets

Translated by Emma Rault

Kayleigh works as a content moderator for a social media platform, reviewing (and removing) the worst of the internet, so we don’t have to. It’s difficult, upsetting work, which she’s really good at – within the digital darkness, her future looks bright. But the job is changing her, and her colleagues: their capacity for cruelty, their ability to be shocked, their perception of normal, acceptable behaviour. How long before their own actions are affected by what they see? 

Everything's Fine

by Cecilia Rabess

In Cecilia Rabess's hilarious, morally complex and compulsively readable debut, a progressive Black woman and a conservative white man fall in love, and everything is most definitely not fine. Jess first meets Josh at their Ivy League college. He is an entitled white guy in chinos, ready to inherit the world. She is almost always the only Black woman in their class, and she’s not expecting to inherit anything. After graduation, Jess and Josh end up working at the same bank. They share lunch, they share sparring matches, they share ambitions. And suddenly they’re sleeping together. Rabess asks what it takes to fall in love in our increasingly polarised times. Can people really ever just 'agree to disagree'? What if the question we really need to ask isn't will they, but should they?

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New Animal

by Ella Baxter

Amelia works at a funeral parlour, so she spends a lot of time with people who are dead. To meet alive ones, she uses dating apps. Combining with someone else's body at night, Amelia can become something else, at least for a while. But when she suffers a sudden loss, she sets off on a mission to outrun her grief, heading to Tasmania, where her dad lives, and the local BDSM scene. There are a lot of self-destructive literary anti-heroines around these days, but, to quote The Telegraph, 'what Amelia's story makes clear is how under-represented female sexuality still is.' New Animal's power is in its moves to address this imbalance.

Luster

by Raven Leilani

'The first time we have sex, we are both fully clothed, at our desks during working hours, bathed in blue computer light.'

So begins the sharp, funny story of Edie, a millennial who is messing up in her dead-end admin job in her all-white office, sleeping with all the wrong men, and failing at the only thing that meant anything to her, painting. Then she finds herself kind-of dating Eric, a white middle-aged archivist in a kind-of open marriage, and falls slap-bang into the middle of his family.

You Will Never Be Forgotten

by Mary South

A birth defect provides potentially problematic inspiration for an architect. A woman progresses from online to real-life stalking of her rapist. A sensitive loner goes missing from a camp for recovering internet trolls. . . In each of her short stories, Mary South explores how technology can both collapse and uplift our relationships. This is a provocative and sharp debut collection, in which people attempt to use tech to escape their uncontrollable feelings of grief, rage or despair, only to reveal their most flawed and human selves.

I'm a Fan

by Sheena Patel

Book cover for I'm a Fan

A nameless narrator takes us through the one-sided minutiae of a toxic relationship with a married man, and her parasocial relationship with The Woman I Am Obsessed With, his other lover. With short, sharp chapters that read like updates on your social feed, Sheena Patel offers a devastating critique of social media, access and patriarchal systems.

Fake Accounts

by Lauren Oyler

Book cover for Fake Accounts

Picture the scene(s): you look through your partner's phone and discover that they are an extremely popular anonymous online conspiracy theorist. You decide to break up with them, but before you can, they die in a biking accident (something you discover through their failure to reply to your texts). So you move to Berlin and also start pretending to be someone else. . . And we're only just getting started, in this wry, provocative and very funny novel about identity and authenticity in the age of the internet.

Conversations with Friends

by Sally Rooney

Book cover for Conversations with Friends

We could have featured any one of Sally Rooney's novels here, but we've gone with her debut as a brilliant and skillful example, perhaps the archetype, of how to seamlessly convey how we communicate today: conversations which naturally traverse phone, email and in-person interactions without breaking their flow. Twenty-one year old Frances starts an affair with an older married man, Nick, and alongside her best friend (and ex-girlfriend) Bobbi form an awkward foursome with him and his wife, Melissa. As their relationships unfold, in person and online, they discuss sex and friendship, art and literature, politics and gender, and, of course, one another.

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Code Dependent

by Madhumita Murgia

Technology that marks children as future criminals. An app bringing medical diagnoses to a remote tribal community. A British poet, an Indian doctor and a Chinese activist in exile. For those looking to stay up to date with real-life developments in technology, and its effects, this propulsive, illuminating work from Madhumita Murgia, AI editor for the Financial Times, shows how automated systems are reshaping lives all over the world.

Is This Ok?

by Harriet Gibsone

Harriet spent much of her young life feeding neuroses and insecurities with obsessive internet searching and indulging in whirlwind ‘parasocial relationships'. But after a diagnosis of early menopause in her late twenties, her relationship with the internet took a darker turn, as her online addictions were thrown into sharp relief by the corporeal realities of illness and motherhood. An outrageously funny, raw and painfully honest account of trying to find connection in the age of the internet, Is This Ok? is the stunning literary debut from music journalist, Harriet Gibsone.