The Modern

Anna Kate Blair

The Modern
Simon & Schuster Australia
30 August 2023

The Modern

Anna Kate Blair

Set in the pristine, precarious world of MoMA, The Modern is a brilliantly wry and insightful debut about art, sexuality, commitment and whether being on the right path can lead to the wrong place.

Things seem to be working out for Sophia in New York: having come from Australia to be at the centre of modernity, she’s working at the Museum of Modern Art, living in a great apartment with a boyfriend interviewing for Ivy League teaching positions. They’re smart, serious, dine in the right restaurants and have (a little unexpectedly) become engaged just before he leaves to hike the Appalachian Trail.

Alone in the city, Sophia begins to wonder what it means to be married – to be defined, publicly – in the 21st century. Can you be true to yourself and someone else? In a bridal shop she meets Cara, a young artist struggling to get over her ex-girlfriend, and the two begin a connection that leads Sophia to question the nature of her relationships, her career and the consequences of being modern.

Both playful and profound, inhabiting the gap between what we feel about ourselves and how we behave, Anna Kate Blair’s debut novel is a sparklingly insightful queer exploration of desire, art and her generation’s place in the world. It announces an exceptional new literary voice.


The Modern is a playful and introspective debut novel that interrogates queerness and urban social life through a lens of art history. Sophia is on the cusp of 30, living in New York with her well-off boyfriend and working as a fellow at the Museum of Modern Art. As an art historian, Sophia is well-versed in the past and in analysing social aesthetics. Her observational training, however, is turned inwards throughout this novel as she’s struck by the prospect of being a queer woman married to a man in the 21st century. As her boyfriend departs for a six-month trek in the mountains, Sophia questions what marriage means, what she might gain and what parts of herself she might lose.

As Sophia ultimately begins to understand, modernity in itself is in flux. To be modern is to be temporary, changing and evolving, as is she and everyone else in New York. Like many other millennials, Sophia finds herself on a precipice; not quite married, not quite a full-time employee, not entirely Australian or American. Driven purely by instinct and desire, she chases her career in the museum world with an unintentional reckless abandon.

Anna Kate Blair spins through many themes and topics with skilful ease in modern art, queer identity and modernity. The museum and its contents are a playground for Blair to deconstruct Sophia’s psyche, her fears and instincts, and how everything collides in the overstimulating melting pot that is New York City. The Modern questions and examines social definitions of life – marriage, queerness, friendship, and how they are warped between public and private domains. Like art, people are rarely just what they seem, but, similar to art, they are different things to different people, and these perceptions are wholly beyond personal control.

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