sarah gilbert's Reviews > Gossip of the Starlings

Gossip of the Starlings by Nina de Gramont
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Jun 04, 2009

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Read in June, 2009

** spoiler alert ** Nina de Gramont writes beautifully, and it is this, and this alone, that I am giving the book its three stars. Sadly, I don't think I like Nina very much, even though, because of her lovely descriptive qualities, I want to.

Having read that she, too, went to a prep school and that she identifies closely with the two main characters, I realize why it is that I don't like Skye at all, and was startled to find myself not at all saddened by the ending, which Nina goes to great lengths to describe, in terms of heightened and flowing emotion, as tragic. She writes in the questions at the end of the paperback version that her novel was described as "elegiaic," that it is her elegy, and I think this describes the writer perfectly: with an overwrought sense of her own poetic tragedy.

Because there is very little in the way of true tragedy here. One reviewer's praise, printed on the back, says the novel "trumps 'A Catcher in the Rye' and 'A Separate Peace.'" (How you can "trump" a classic novel is beyond me. "10 times better than 'Romeo and Juliet' will, I am sure, be printed on the next edition.) It doesn't, not only because it so achingly conscious of 'A Separate Peace,' and with a general feeling of being too lightly edited. I look back at the book later and wonder, what happened? and it is not because I do not remember or cannot believe, but it is because so little happened. A blood pact. A few grams of cocaine, shared. A weekend of dark fun and not-quite-sex. A few rounds of hitchhiking. A couple of horse shows. A ruinous flirtation with a male teacher. It will be easy to turn this book into a movie. They will not have to leave out a single bit of the action.

I am caught up in the simultaneous beauty of the phrasing and the sense that I am being weighed down with so much, so much foreshadowing, I know too well how tragic the book is before I am even introduced to the character's loveless families. If I am saddened by anything, it is that Nina obviously sees distant, angry, remote fathers as worth justification (in one part she, in the narrator's voice, excuses her father for his lifetime of gruff distance because of his "rage at me, for placing the most precious part of his interior in harm's way"), it is that she believes that she now has a "sharper insight" to her younger self. I don't see any of that maturity in her narrator (who is, supposedly, a woman of de Gramont's own age looking back at her teenage self); I see a pretense at a weighty realization of the world's meaning, of true mournfulness. I see no actual deep knowledge.

And I am sad, sad, that this book is so little of what it could be; I am sad that her characters see tragedy in brushes with jail time (they're all let off, except the lower-class ex-boyfriend, who ends up never finishing high school, and it's all Nina's, err, Catherine's fault); I am sad that the parents of these prep school teens are all so stunningly out of touch with their children's lives. Most of all I'm sad for Catherine's mother, the only one who seems to truly love her child, but who is ordered not to show it too much by the aforementioned rageful, gruff dad.

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Erica I purchased this book based on two separate People Magazine reviews. Sadly, I didn't love this book as much as People did.

The only character that I had any feelings for was John Paul. A day after finishing this novel, I am still unnerved about his ending.

As far as Skye is concerned, I couldn't wait until she died! How Cathernie could be drawn in by someone so cruel and selfish and toxic is beyond me.

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