I feel like I should like this more. Because it's on so many best-of-the-year lists. Because it makes a somewhat unconventional structure and voice woI feel like I should like this more. Because it's on so many best-of-the-year lists. Because it makes a somewhat unconventional structure and voice work. Because it certainly made me feel like I was going through a divorce.
I did like it, did enjoy some of the tweet-like snippets very much. But I didn't connect with the characters. The husband never seemed like a real person, and the wife seemed to be depressed mostly b/c she was bored. I had expected a bit more about the writerly aspect of her--her wish to become an "art monster," the success of her first novel, the pressure to write another. I didn't understand her friendships either.
This is a short book that packs in a lot of emotions and handles many scenes with subtlety, the way a haiku conveys in three lines what other poems do in multiple verses. I'm impressed with the author's ability to do that. But some things went underdeveloped....more
A coming of age story, with lots of detail about the ups and downs of a hormonal teenager. Johanna starts out as a 14-year-old goofball, always makingA coming of age story, with lots of detail about the ups and downs of a hormonal teenager. Johanna starts out as a 14-year-old goofball, always making jokes with references that nobody around her understands ("We must away, to pastures new"). By 17, she's still not fooling anyone about her underlying goofiness, but now she's very sexually active. (extended descriptions of the sex; except for a bizarre episode of cystitis (??), it's pretty funny reading.)
Her sexual escapades make her seem sort of liberated (she rejects partners who live too far away from the train station, all the easier to commute home in the morning), and sort of low-self-esteem/martyr-ish-pleaser-girl. On the plus side, she never feels guilty or gets mopey about any of these encounters.
Curiously, Johanna does not have any relationships at all with women. Her mother is a half-presence, because she's deeply in post-partum depression. Johanna's other relationships are with her father, her older brother, the music critics she hangs out with, and a musician she falls in love with. Whatever the feminist message is here, it's not the "sisterhood is powerful" type.
The plot is a little predictable, but I enjoyed many flashes of interesting writing, especially about England's working class.
"In later years, I can always recognize someones else who received this shot of fear at an early age--other kids from frangible houses: kids who felt the sand collapsing under their feet; kids who sat awake in the dark, imagining their whole families burning down, and planning planning planning who to save first from the future, and the flames. Children raised on cortisol. Children who think too fast."
"All my life, I've thought that if I couldn't say anything boys found interesting, I might as well shut up. But now I realize that there was that whole other, invisible half of the world--girls--that I could speak to instead. A whole other half equally silent and frustrated, just waiting to be given the smallest starting signal--the tiniest starter culture--and they would explode into words, and song, and action . . . ."
"[N]ow I've lost my virginity, I use it as the springboard to go on what is basically a massive Shag Quest. I wish to be like James Bond, who never leaves a party without either shagging someone or blowing something up. That is my role model here."
"[T]he [posh people at the country house party] come and ask you to play in paradise, but you do not know how to board their caravel, and you do not know how to ride their swans. They call out their names--"Emilia! Will! Sophie! Frances!" Names that do not have to bear heavy weights, or be written on benefit application forms--pleading. Names that will always be just a joyous signature on a birthday card, or check--and never called out in a room full of anxious people."...more