The Vulnerables / Riverhead Books / November 7, 2023


A Best Book of 2023: NPR, Kirkus, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, San Francisco Chronicle, The New Republic, Irish Times, She Reads, and a Goodreads Staff Top Pick. A Most Anticipated or Best Book of Fall or Best Book of November: The New York Times, TIME Magazine, Elle, Washington Post, Lit Hub, The Millions, Good Housekeeping, The Week, Southern Living, Town and Country, Shondaland, Book Riot, Chicago Review of Books, Good Morning America, and a November Indie Next List Pick

Elegy plus comedy is the only way to express how we live in the world today, says a character in Sigrid Nunez’s ninth novel. The Vulnerables completes a meditation on our contemporary era that Nunez began with The Friend and continued with What Are You Going Through. A solitary female narrator asks what it means to be alive at this complex moment in history and considers how our present reality affects the way a person looks back on her past. Humor, to be sure, is a priceless refuge. Equally vital is connection with others, who here include an adrift member of Gen Z and a spirited parrot named Eureka. The Vulnerables reveals what happens when strangers are willing to open their hearts to each other and how far even small acts of caring can go to ease another’s distress. A search for understanding about some of the most critical matters of our time, Nunez’s new novel is also an inquiry into the nature and purpose of writing itself.


Once you discover Sigrid Nunez, you don’t look back.” Anne Enright

“I am committed, until one of us dies, to Nunez’s novels. I find them ideal. They are short, wise, provocative, funny: good and strong company.” Dwight Garner

“Through nine novels, Nunez has exhibited a gift for storytelling forms that smuggle dark matter into books, which, nonetheless, proceed with bright, good humor. They are as sophisticated as they are straightforward, as death-haunted as they are life-bringing.” Wyatt Mason

“A sharp-eyed and tender novel about human connection in a time of crisis. As compassionate as it is disquieting, and as funny as it is painfully honest.” Paula Hawkins

“Sigrid Nunez has achieved something wonderful at this stage of her career: a talent for slim, companionable novels that have both delicacy and power.” Vogue

“Her Wordsworthian exploration of “how much of life is shaped by sadness for what’s left behind,” her rare ability to be at once wistfully elegiac and sharply hilarious make ‘The Vulnerables’ a gift.” Boston Globe

“Rather than dwelling in despair, Nunez’s book expands into a meditation on pain and the formation of unusual intimacies.” The New Yorker

“Little explosions of pathos detonate periodically through this story — their power even more impressive for the way Nunez repeatedly lulls us into the comfort of her wry, ruminative voice….The Vulnerables isn’t a rejection of the novel as a form, so much as a test of its dimensions.” Washington Post

“Who better to write a ‘pandemic book’ than the godmother of contemplating empathy and connection?…. [H]ere are quotable, thought-provoking lines on every page of this book, which is not merely a ‘pandemic book,’ but a novel that cracks open windows and offers a reassuring breeze, reminding us that it’s OK — and perhaps even necessary — to need each other; it’s only human.” San Francisco Chronicle

“Smart and sad and funny.” Sarah Moss

“It is exciting to read a book that manages to be so honest and serious, and at the same time so playful and witty.” Natasha Walter

“Hilarious and deeply reflective.” TIME

“Grave, luminous, and funny, this story  . . . ponders huge questions—our catastrophic relationship with nature, loneliness, the death of the novel.” The New Republic

“With her usual grace and skill, Sigrid Nunez presents a series of delicate, sometimes heartbreakingly sad, sometimes funny musings on life … from the epigraphs to the final words of the book, Nunez’s word choices are exact—illustrating both the depth of her relationship with a vast body of work and her ability to depict life.” Brooklyn Rail

“Nunez’s subject is the core business of being alive: the tenuous beauty of human connection, the nature of memory, the purpose of writing, the passage of time…. [T]he result is almost arrestingly straightforward. Spare and understated and often quite funny … strangely, sweetly hopeful; there is, it seems, a reason to go on. Sharp—and surprisingly tender.” Kirkus, starred review

“[A] funny and thoughtful story…. [Nunez’s] pacing is as swift as her wit. Once again, Nunez manages to make a story of mortality go down easy.” Publishers Weekly

“A profound picture of layered, human simultaneity…. Calling on a vast store of memories lived, read, and written about, the narrator is serious and silly, optimistic and devastating, lighting readers’ way through a dark and disconnected time, joyfully.” Booklist

“[A] penetrating interrogation of the nature of reading, writing, creating fiction–especially in a time of widespread peril.” Shelf Awareness

“Nunez’s ninth novel is a reading experience—existential, beautifully written, funny, and even hopeful.” Literary Hub Fall Preview

“Sigrid Nunez is a beautiful storyteller: there’s beauty, depth, lightness and whimsy in her writing. But what I most admired was her confidence to be playful and inventive.The Vulnerablesis clever, refreshing and fulfilling to read.” Claire Kohda

“Fresh, funny and very now.” Bidisha Mamata

“Full of alive, curious poetry on the chaotic times we live in.” Sheena Patel

“A meandering, sharply written joy – a book to relate to, to savour and to chuckle over, wryly.”  New Zealand Herald

“What makes her search particularly thrilling is its brashness and its erudition, its equal propensity to reach for Nietzsche, J.M. Coetzee, or T.S. Eliot or just to play fetch with a bird. What this feels like is an eventful, rich, addictive conversation with your smartest, funniest and most well-read friend.” LA Times

“It’s a difficult task to write about a collective experience many of us would prefer to never recall, but Nunez does so, with a subtle kindness towards us all in a place when the world was at one of its most ‘vulnerable’ moments.” BuzzFeed/HuffPost

“Ms. Nunez gracefully leaps from big emotions, including grief, to erudite literary digressions or biting wit…The Vulnerables manages to be both playful and dead serious about forging an effective variant of Woolf’s proposed essay-novel…This inventive novel adds tongue-in-cheek humor into the mix.” Wall Street Journal

“A lucid reflection on friendship and the complicated business of caring for other people.”  Monocle

“With the intimacy and humor of a great conversation, this novel makes you feel smarter and more alive.” People

“An ode to our basic need to connect with other beings, be they human or animal, even in a global crisis that told us to stay apart.”  NPR

“Strikes the difficult balance of being both elegiac and comedic as it seeks to explore what it means to be alive during our complex moment in history. Like much of her work, Nunez’s latest seeks brief and blisteringly beautiful moments of connection, which burn ever brighter amid the haunting loneliness she crafts.” Chicago Review of Books

“The novel’s most valuable offering comes from its ability to gather elements and hold them together, as we wished to hold one another. In this respect, love pervades every page.” LA Review of Books

Nunez is back with her signature blend of wryness and poignant observation … [The Vulnerables] sheds light on what it means to be vulnerable, and of how humans find comfort during times of crisis.” Electric Literature

“The Vulnerables is a great entrée to [Nunez’s] fiction, this one musing on the death of the novel, on loneliness and ageing, the weather, and uncomfortable questions in contemporary culture. Nunez guarantees intelligent company and brings original wit and provocative insights to her brisk meditation on lockdown life.” Sydney Morning Herald, Fiction Pick of the Week

“The chic new hardback to have on your New Year reading pile . . . [Nunez is] a literary star.” Jesse Thompson, The Independent

“Sigrid Nunez is among the most interesting writers of our generation.” The Independent

“Nunez’s empathy, wit, and acute social observations also give rise to great storytelling. . . . The Vulnerables succeeds on every level and includes, well, everything.” Columbia Magazine 

“Above all, this is a touching, beautiful book, which underlines everyone’s vulnerability to all manner of challenges facing the world, not least how to co-exist even with those you would rather discard as weeds.” The i

“All kinds of vulnerability are laced through this layered, thoughtful book . . . The states of feeling she conjures are quietly shocking, reminders of the pleasures and costs of our shared humanity.” Telegraph

“A must-read about unlikely friendships.” Sunday Times Style

“Compulsively readable.” Elle

“The Vulnerables leaves us, as the novel reaches its extraordinarily hopeful and disarming last line, with the feeling that we have been helped.” Guardian Book of the Day