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Really Good, Actually by Monica Heisey: Schitt’s Creek writer’s debut novel is just okay, actually

An occasionally astute but ultimately hit-and-miss comedic portrayal of Millennials’ existential anguish

Really Good, Actually
Really Good, Actually
Author: Monica Heisey
ISBN-13: 978-0008511722
Publisher: 4th Estate
Guideline Price: £14.99

As one of the screenwriters for the award-winning hit TV show Schitt’s Creek, Heisey has now honed her talent for comedy writing into a debut novel inspired by her own experience as a “Surprisingly Young Divorcée”. The Toronto-born writer, who lives in London, has created an electric character – the sardonic Maggie – who must navigate becoming divorced and reinventing a new life for herself aged just 29. Properly alone for the first time, Maggie discovers that she has little resilience and no coping mechanisms to apply to her situation. A year of chaos, self-questioning, poor decision-making and intense agonising ensues.

There are few better examples for the comedic potential of a life turned upside-down than Schitt’s Creek. The beloved show’s incredible reception and critical acclaim was fostered not only by its hilarity, however, but by the depth of the characterisations and the nuanced light and shade of the screenwriting that consistently commandeered the tone.

It is this instinct for tone that is most conspicuously absent from Heisey’s work. The narrator, Maggie, has undoubtedly mastered the art of dry, cynical wit and, although the result is not exactly laugh-out-loud funny, it is often amusing. Some of the high jinks she embraces as part of her “sadness hobbies” and experimental dating are written with great chutzpah and energy that do light up the page. It is quite painful, however, to constantly sit with Maggie’s self-lacerating thinly disguised as self-deprecating humour for extended passages, especially when tonally it tends to repeat the same note. By the time her friends have grown tired of her in the novel, the reader too is desperate for a change in gear and for some progression.

Interludes in the form of lists such as Reasons I Cried, Selected Correspondence from Tinder, Unanswered Texts and transcripts of Google searches do break the monotony, and Heisey is excellent at producing these fragmentary asides that offer genuinely funny insights. These welcome interruptions of the narrator’s voice suggest that perhaps if the book had not been written exclusively from Maggie’s first-person perspective, that a greater dimension to the material may have been uncovered. For despite Maggie’s obsessive analysis of her situation and self, Heisey tends to pull her punches and scratch the surface of real meaning rather than activating the potential for something more meaningful.


At the heart of the novel is a central question regarding responsibility, articulated by new boyfriend Simon: “I spend a lot of time worrying that I’m fundamentally a worse person than I thought I was. How can you tell if something you did was a stupid mistake, or a real sign of your character?” A significant amount of time is spent deliberating over questions such as these, with limited results.

Heisey is excellent at recognising the importance of friendships as the families we choose ourselves

There will be many readers in their 20s and early 30s who will absolutely adore Heisey’s clear-sighted skewering of her generation’s foibles: the dating apps, online personas, the alienation and disconnection that comes from always being on, the pressure for perfection and so on. Maggie’s quandary of simultaneously revealing too much of herself online, while also desperately trying to hide her true self, is one that many will relate to. That she can be so fixated on curating her public profile, on erasing everything she feels to be unattractive, while also being so incredibly unaware of how she actually presents herself to others in reality is portrayed with pitch perfection by Heisey. If the author had leaned into this paradox with a little more purpose, and fewer deadpan asides, some greater truth may have been revealed.

Heisey is excellent, however, at recognising the importance of friendships as the families we choose ourselves. She confidently elevates these relationships to their deserved status as akin in importance to the romantic partnerships revered in society. If the characterisations of Maggie’s friends are sometimes sketchy as opposed to the multidimensional powerful cast they could have been, they are nonetheless critical to the success of the book. A TV adaptation of Really Good, Actually is in the pipeline and no doubt they will be developed into an incredible ensemble when dramatised – all the potential is there.

As one of the most hotly tipped debut authors of 2023, Heisey does deliver on the promise of an astute, comedic portrayal of Millennials’ existential anguish. For anyone feeling overwhelmed by the onset of adulthood looking different from the fantasy, Heisey offers an alternative to the cliched wisdom of elders and will definitely make you feel less alone, actually.

Helen Cullen

Helen Cullen

Helen Cullen, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a novelist and critic