People I had to stop myself from asking what they thought of the Fleabag finale this morning: the postman, the construction workers outside my house, and every single person on the train to work. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s first creation has departed our screens with a conclusive little wave, leaving us electrified by a heartbreak that feels total, but also – unlike those induced by the loss of her mother and best friend – like the start of stronger foundations.

I don’t know if I’ll ever work out what I loved about it so much – surrendering to someone else’s vision is such pure pleasure that attempting to dismantle it feels almost like self-sabotage – but I think it’s tied into grappling with those things you want even though you know you shouldn’t; the constant temptation of the self-destruct button, and the brief moment of untrammelled pleasure it would induce before the chaos reigned.

Whatever feeling you got from it, our culture writers’ tips of what to read, watch and listen to post-Fleabag should sustain those heady sensations – or at least tide you over until you binge the full six-hour run again this weekend. Laura Snapes

Hadley Freeman

Without a doubt, In at the Deep End, by Kate Davies, is the afterparty book for anyone looking to extend their Fleabag fun. Newly published, Davies’ book is raucous, sexy, poignant and smart, and is definitely the most fun you will have with lesbian BDSM short of doing it yourself. In a similar vein, American actor and comedian Tiffany Haddish’s memoir, The Last Black Unicorn, is easily the most extraordinary celebrity memoir I’ve read in some time, and its mix of jawdropping sexual anecdotes with real personal pain has a Fleabag flavour.

The cover of The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish.
Jawdropping ... The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish. Photograph: Last Black Unicorn, by Tiffany Haddish

Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth is the best thing I’ve read on female friendship in years, full of chaos and love and self-destruction. As for TV, Fleabag’s most obvious antecedent is 1983’s ridiculously enjoyable The Thorn Birds, adapted from Colleen McCollough’s pot-boiler novel, with its tale of forbidden love with a priest. On the stage, Betrayal is currently on at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London, starring Tom Hiddleston and Zawe Ashton, and while not exactly heavy on the laughs, its sense of impending self-inflicted doom has a certain Fleabag tang.

Lucy Mangan

The defining feature of this season of Fleabag is yearning – a lost art in a world where every desire can be pretty much instantaneously gratified. So in film I’d nominate Brokeback Mountain, in which the love between two Wyoming cowboys cannot ever be fully or publicly realised; in books, Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome, about the growing attraction between a married man and his wife’s cousin Mattie who comes to stay to help him look after his ailing wife. And if you haven’t got enough time for a whole book or film, then the four lines of AE Housman’s poem “He would not stay for me, and who could wonder” will be enough to slay you.

Catherine Shoard

Muriel Spark was high priestess of flawed, funny, female first-person narrators. And A Far Cry From Kensington’s Mrs Hawkins – a young, fat war widow with a pragmatic approach to sex and withering zingers about her crap beaus and seriously weird colleagues – is Spark’s absolute queen. Few novels could be quite as quick or filthy, sexy or soapy as the second series of Fleabag, but this is a good place for those in mourning to find refuge – it even comes with lashings of Catholic angst.

Elle Hunt

The cover of The Pisces by Melissa Broder.
What if The One was the merman? ...The Pisces by Melissa Broder. Photograph: PR

Waller-Bridge’s character may use sex to distract from the “screaming void”, but look past the will-she won’t-she (spoiler: she did!) with the hot priest if you can, and Fleabag is really about meaningful connection – not just the question of how to find it, but also the more fundamental one of what it is. It’s very hard to search for something if you don’t know what it looks like. In her debut novel, The Pisces, Melissa Broder posits: what if The One was a merman? Stay with me. Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction against Sally Rooney’s Normal People, I found The Pisces much more relatable in its depiction of sex, in spite of the ludicrous premise. Look past the protagonist Lucy’s can-she can’t-she with the hot merman, and all of modernity’s myriad possible paths to relationships are on display: therapy, divorce, hook-up apps, and even what might be – if you squint a bit – a happy, well-functioning relationship. You might find yourself agreeing that, given the options, you’d go for the merman, too – and the ending is a brilliant payoff.

Laura Snapes

‘Self-abasement and sex-as-power’ ... St Vincent, AKA Annie Clark.
‘Sex-as-power’ ... St Vincent, AKA Annie Clark. Photograph: Frank Hoensch/Redferns

Two neurotic sisters: one charming, flailing and hellbent on “rescuing” her uptight, driven and thoroughly conventional twin from a wedding she intends to wreck. A dead mother and a reclusive father. Middle-class trappings, attempted suicide. Dorothy Baker wrote Cassandra at the Wedding in 1962, but – California setting aside – it’s an uncanny analog for Waller-Bridge’s creation. Just like Fleabag, Cassandra is reprehensible in many ways but you can’t help but root for her. Gail Parent’s cult 1972 novel, Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York, puts a mordant twist on a young woman’s failure, bluntness and nihilism, themes that Jami Attenberg’s 2017 novel All Grown Up celebrates in her defiantly unmarried 39-year-old Andrea. Beyond books, Claudia Weill’s 1978 film, Girlfriends, centres on its young female protagonist’s lack of direction, illicit relationships with religious figures and a climactic art exhibition, and themes of self-abasement and sex-as-power have always littered St Vincent’s music.

Kate Abbott

Elevated emotional intelligence ... Transparent. Photograph: Merie Wallace/Amazon

Forget The Priest picking God – if there’s one thing that summed up the emotional sucker punch of this series, it was this seemingly simple statement uttered by Claire about her sister: “The only person I’d run through an airport for is you.” Right from Fleabag’s opening episode outburst that spared Claire the agony of having to announce her miscarriage, they embodied the awe, the awfulness and the lie-down-in-traffic protective power of sibling love. Jill Soloway’s Transparent (returning on Amazon Prime for the last time later this year), even after misconduct allegations against its lead Jeffrey Tambor, is similarly stunning television that comes with elevated emotional intelligence, all the messy beauty and pain of family and sexual politics – especially between Sarah, Josh and Ali Pfefferman – plus characters who are across the board loveable … even if you’re not sure you like them most of the time.

Kathryn Bromwich

Desiree Akhavan in Appropriate Behaviour.
Genuinely heartrending ... Desiree Akhavan in Appropriate Behaviour. Photograph: PR

It’s astonishing that flawed, complex female protagonists are still such a rarity, but happily there are some precedents. Desiree Akhavan’s debut feature Appropriate Behaviour (2015) saw Iranian-American protagonist Shirin coming to terms with her bisexuality; cue a breakup, drinking alone in bars, and an ill-judged threesome. It has a bittersweet tone, switching between ironic detachment and genuinely heartrending scenes. Told through Shirin’s very personal lens, it captures something universal about millennial ennui and lack of direction.

Gwilym Mumford

‘The same air of fourth-wall-breaking confessional as Waller-Bridge’s creation’ ... Liz Phair.
‘The same air of fourth-wall-breaking confessional as Waller-Bridge’s creation’ ... Liz Phair. Photograph: Tom Maday/Time & Life Pictures/Getty

Two and a bit decades before Waller-Bridge swaggered into the historically blokey terrain of primetime TV comedy, Liz Phair did something similar in the male-dominated dive bars and DIY venues of US alternative rock. It’s probably a stretch to suggest that Fleabag herself would have had Phair’s debut 1991 Exile in Guyville on rotation in her formative years, but the album possesses the same air of fourth-wall-breaking confessional as Waller-Bridge’s creation: sexually frank, psychologically candid and possessed of a withering, detached, kill-you-from-10-paces wit. Indeed, you could easily imagine the album’s terrific centrepiece Fuck and Run, a fiercely honest account of post-one-night-stand ennui, being delivered during one of Fleabag’s trademark turns to camera.

Lanre Bakare

Ariel Levy’s writing often shares Fleabag’s tragicomic DNA. The New Yorker writer’s gut-wrenching account of dealing with a miscarriage by herself in Mongolia is – as you might expect – light on laughs, but it shows a writer able to weave her own life and perceived missteps into incredible storytelling. Her tale of taking ayahuasca in New York could comprise a perfect Fleabag episode – middle-class white people acting bizarrely, lots of potential for physical comedy and just a dash of pathos.

Sian Cain

‘Fantastically funny and often saucy’ ... Priestdaddy author Patricia Lockwood.
‘Fantastically funny and often saucy’ ... Priestdaddy author Patricia Lockwood. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose/The Observer

For anyone wanting to further explore the darker depths of female sexuality, Adele by Leïla Slimani is a slim but shocking look at sex addiction and the unsettling antipathy some women can feel towards sex. On the lighter end of the scale, Conversations With Friends and Normal People by Sally Rooney also depict women struggling with the balance of power in their sexual and romantic lives. For readers searching for more of Waller-Bridge’s irreverent and filthy humour, the works of poet Patricia Lockwood, particularly her memoir Priestdaddy, are fantastically funny and often saucy. Nina Stibbe’s informal trilogy of novels – Man at the Helm, Paradise Lodge and Reasons to Be Cheerful – are great examples of similarly caustic, British wit: Stibbe’s Lizzy Vogel is about half a bottle of red wine away from Fleabag – if with better taste in men.

Harriet Gibsone

If it’s the bludgeoning thwack of Fleabag’s honesty you’ll miss, Jessie Cave’s overall output should do the trick. While lightyears ahead of the character in terms of emotional transparency, she articulates the turbulence of yearning for a rotten relationship and the thorny reality of adult life with similar fervour. Her social media and web shorts provide a quick fix of her funny, frantic voice too. With hopeless visits to a therapist, disastrous attempts at romance/scenic forest walks and permanently caked in last night’s mascara, Roisin Conaty’s character Marcella in sitcom GameFace is also spawned from the same gene pool as Fleabag. Almost certainly willing to stand by the proclamation that hair really is everything, Marcella is a jobbing actor who’s in debt, not over her ex and living in a flatshare. Returning to Channel 4 this year, it’s way funnier than the raft of “blokes in flatshare” sitcoms that have filled up primetime TV for the past decade.

Jenny Stevens

‘Her sharpness of pen reminds me of Waller-Bridge’ ... Deborah Levy.
‘Her sharpness of pen reminds me of Waller-Bridge’ ... Deborah Levy. Photograph: Sheila Burnett

Deborah Levy’s “living memoirs” (of which she has written two so far) are at times devastatingly brutal about the female experience. Her sharpness of pen reminds me of Waller-Bridge. Particularly the bit in Things I Don’t Want to Know where she writes about women who become mothers as “shadows of our former selves, chased by the women we used to be before we had children.” I think of childless women, like me and Fleabag, when she continues: “We didn’t really know what to do with her, this fierce, independent young woman who followed us about, shouting and pointing the finger while we wheeled our buggies in the English rain.”

What other TV, films and books would you recommend to Fleabag fans? Please add yours in the comments below.

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Hope in the dark: culture to make you feel less terrible about the UK election
You may be distraught at the result, or just want a break from politics – so find solace in our critics’ pick of 30 films, songs, books and more to hide under a duvet with

Peter Bradshaw, Alexis Petridis, Kate Abbott, Hannah J Davies, Richard Lea, Alison Flood, Imogen Tilden and Keith Stuart

13, Dec, 2019 @11:30 AM

Article image
Liz Phair’s teenage obsessions: ‘I wanted to be a 6,000-year-old vampire with style’
The singer-songwriter on watching The Hunger 60 times, how EE Cummings inspired her lyrics and discovering magic mushrooms at a Grateful Dead show

As told to Dave Simpson

03, Jun, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
Culture to cheer you up during the second lockdown: part one
As parts of the UK enters another month – at least – of being stuck indoors, our critics pick out top music, games, books, TV, dance and art fixes to lift your spirits

Alexis Petridis, Keza MacDonald, Alison Flood, Lucy Mangan, Lyndsey Winship, Jonathan Jones

05, Nov, 2020 @10:51 AM

Article image
Moral of the story: 2019's boldest culture asked what it means to be good
At a time when deceit is trumping decency, artists from Kanye West to Greta Gerwig and Phoebe Waller-Bridge have taken it upon themselves to pose questions about virtue and privilege

Laura Snapes

27, Dec, 2019 @12:00 PM

Article image
On my radar: John Simm's cultural highlights

The actor on listening to Lloyd Cole, watching Man of Steel and reading Stoner by John Williams

Ben Marshall

13, Jul, 2013 @11:01 PM

Article image
The culture Christmas gift guide 2017
Wes Anderson Top Trumps, Peter Blake’s bomber jacket, A Bigger Splash beach towel, Taylor Swift’s jewellery … and other ideas for the creative pressie-buyer

04, Dec, 2017 @6:00 AM

Article image
The culture Christmas gift guide 2016
Swig a New Order beer, grab your Miss Piggy clutch, light that Rihanna prayer candle and gather round the Death Star fire pit … whatever your cultural bent, these suggestions will put some yo in your ho ho

12, Nov, 2016 @8:00 AM

Article image
Annie Mac leaves BBC Radio 1 after 17 years
The Irish presenter – about to debut as a novelist – will be replaced on new music show Future Sounds by Clara Amfo

Hannah J Davies

20, Apr, 2021 @9:24 AM