The Future Future: A Novel
Short-listed for the 2023 Goldsmiths Prize
A wild story of female friendship, language, and power, from France to colonial America to the moon, from 1775 to this very moment: a historical novel like no other.
It’s the eighteenth century, and Celine is in trouble. Her husband is mostly absent. Her parents are elsewhere. And meanwhile men are inventing stories about her—about her affairs, her sexuality, her orgies and addictions. All these stories are lies, but the public loves them and spreads them like a virus. Celine can only watch as her name becomes a symbol for everything rotten in society.
This is a world of decadence and saturation, of lavish parties and private salons, of tulle and satin and sex and violence. It’s also one ruled by men—high on colonial genocide, natural destruction, crimes against women, and, above all, language. To survive, Celine and her friends must band together in search of justice, truth, and beauty.
Fantastical, funny, and blindingly bright, Adam Thirlwell’s The Future Future follows one woman on an urgently contemporary quest to clear her name and change the world.
Praise for The Future Future: A Novel
“A subversive historical novel . . . Thirlwell evokes the febrile rumour mill that circled around the Tree of Cracow, in the Palais Royal gardens, before spinning it out of control, out of time and into outer space.”
—Ruth Scurr, Times Literary Supplement
“Thirlwell’s prose can feel like being tickled, precious and pointed at the same time . . . Thirlwell echoes late Nabokov in the desire to carve out a space for intimate and sensual aesthetic experience in the midst of a literary moment and publishing climate oriented to the supposedly engaged and ethical . . . Thirlwell’s distant mirroring—the past as present, the present as past, the future as repetition—takes a fascinating turn that elevates the novel out of the realm of ordinary curiosity into something, well, truly new.”
—Marco Roth, Tablet
“Imaginative, original, fantastical, and puzzling . . . Readers willing to think wildly will luxuriate in this unusual and subversive tale.”
—Marcie Geffner, Washington Independent Review of Books
“[In] typically bold style, Thirlwell subverts the traditions of the historical novel with The Future Future . . . The full range of Thirlwell’s intellectual promiscuity abounds, with philosophy, language, science and anthropology coalescing into the book’s utopian climax.”
—Finn Blythe, AnOther Magazine
"[The Future Future] is a joy to read: extravagant and funny and insightful about the nature of experience and love and gossip, with sentences that trip and shimmer off the page . . . like nothing I’ve ever read before."
—Emily Temple, Literary Hub
"The Future Future interlaces history and fantasy in intricate ways . . . The whole point of literature, the author convinces us again and again, is that it can never be confined to a single culture. Like the garden cultivated by Celine, it thrives on variety, as demonstrated by this complex, brilliant book. One way to read it is as a translation that takes liberties with the original – an assortment of historical sources – the better to roll fact and fiction into a single engrossing tale."
—Anna Aslanyan, Times Literary Supplement
"The Future Future is a smooth, gripping read, displaying a remarkable sure-footedness when it comes to creating an atmosphere both inside and outside history . . . A bracingly feminist book . . . The Future Future is a terrific novel: a testament to female friendship, an adventure story, a political commentary and a hymn to the power of language crafted into a unique and compelling shape."
—Erica Wagner, Financial Times
"A deeply contemporary story about a woman using the limited forms of power at her disposal to hollow out a space of agency in a violently patriarchal world . . . Thirlwell’s prose is hypnotic and coolly beautiful. The writing is full of dreamlike leaps, not just at the level of plot, but in its sentences, too . . . The Future Future is a strange and evasive novel, but it has a beauty and a mysterious power that reflect its enigmatic protagonist."
—Mark O’Connell, The Guardian
"Sharp and witty and burningly original: a book that feels joyfully new."
—Katherine Rundell, author of Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne
“In The Future Future, Adam Thirlwell considers the celestial and the political on the same plane, creating wondrous new ways of seeing history, nature, friendship and time. He weaves together so many wisps of reality, and the result is a radically beautiful new novel that is funny, touching, memorable and bright.”
—Sheila Heti, author of Pure Colour
“A book filled with imaginative leaps, brave decisions and tiny details that give delight.”
—Colm Tóibín, author of The Magician
“Sex, revolution and death in eighteenth-century France and America, described in the language of the future, and featuring an astonishing visit to the moon. A dazzling performance, unlike anything else you’ll read this (or any other) year.”
—Salman Rushdie, author of Victory City
“A landmark—precisely because it’s so deeply embedded in our history and is so unthinkably original.”
—Edmund White, author of A Previous Life
“I am utterly obsessed by Adam Thirlwell's dazzling, effervescent The Future Future. More epic than The Favourite, more vivid than Marie Antoinette, his prose sandblasts the dust off history, revealing the untold stories of real women—raw, sexy, funny and glinting with life. The Future Future is a parachute in time, both modern and timeless, unflinching and hilarious. Mesmerising. I’m transfixed.”
—Polly Stenham, playwright of Hotel
“The Future Future is Adam Thirlwell’s best novel—but it’s also the best novel anyone else has written anywhere for many years. Daring, funny, powerful and deeply imaginative—asking profound questions about the nature of revolution, about the rules of history and power, and about the strange times we find ourselves in.”
—Daniel Kehlmann, author of Measuring the World