Monday, May 25, 2009

Book Review: A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy

When asked to review the novel, A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy by singer, songwriter and playwright Charlotte Greig of Cardiff, Wales, I wasn't so sure it was something I would like. It sounded suspiciously like chick literature, and I worried there wouldn't be enough action. I need a plot to keep moving in order for it to hold my interest, and the cover photo with with girl lounging with a book in her hands didn't look too promising. Reading about someone else reading? I'm not so sure I've got the patience.

However, this novel turned out to be a pleasant surprise. No, it wasn't suspenseful and riveting like the genre I'm used to reading, but it was haunting enough to collect my attention. My criteria for whether a book is good is simply whether I find myself thinking about it when I'm busy doing other things and don't have the time to sit and read. I know a book is excellent when I stop everything I'm doing to read the next chapter. I did do that on several occasions with A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy.

Susannah, a philosophy student at Sussex University during the 1970's, finds herself in the predicament of having two men in her life and one baby growing inside of her. She applies the words of philosophers to her dilemma in an effort to make some very important decisions. Her character is well conceived with that combination of innocence, confusion, and apathy that is common among young adults and teenagers who have yet to make big decisions, learn from them, and develop morals as a result.

The story is tightly woven with great dialog followed up with contradictory actions. In one scene, Rob, the less mature, more possessive and desperate sounding boyfriend, begs Susannah to stay with him. She sighs and says, "Oh, all right then. But I haven't got long."

Greig follows up that quote with, "We stayed in the common room for the rest of the afternoon, drinking coffees and smoking cigarettes and talking."

She portrays Susannah's ambivalence beautifully. There are moments when it is apparent that this character doesn't seem to have control over herself, none-the-less the world around her. Despite waking most mornings in a state of sheer terror and not coping well with her father's passing or her mother's inability to get on with life, she is amazingly out of touch with her own feelings. A fed-up bed partner has to push her to make an appointment at the university's health center to see a psychologist, which somehow derails into never happening.

The flakiness of the main character is in part what makes her so believable and fascinating. I am often left thinking, "I can't believe she would let someone do that to her or treat her that way."

Then I recall my younger years and say, "Oh yeah, actually, I can believe it."

The book is about discovering what one can believe in and rely on. It's about making decisions from both the perspectives of optimism and pessimism. It's about not thinking enough as well as over-thinking. It's about choosing in favor of one's self or someone else.

The symbolism of the blackened baby teeth in the beautiful ebony and stone-encrusted milk-teeth box, believed to belong to a Princess of Wales, was hard to miss. It was such a strange object for an author to weave throughout the storyline. Dead blackened teeth must be somewhat disgusting, yet somehow they seem more precious in such a nice box and with the promise that the teeth may have belonged to somebody famous and could be very valuable.

Susannah's older boyfriend is an antique dealer, a business that depends on perceived value, and the main characters are all trying to discover what they value more when faced with difficult decisions. I love a book that is so tight that the reader can see how everything connects. Nothing is sloppy, extraneous or out of place. I look forward to reading more books by Charlotte Greig.


A NOTE TO MY READERS: Due to comments from readers that they appreciate my detailed reviews on books and products, I have decided to branch out into a blog that is dedicated to these types of reviews. Please add this new blog to your RSS feed or become a follower if you'd like the inside scoop on books and products from a picky person:

Nuz Muz Reviews


Leah Fry said...

I enjoy your reviews also, but I don't mind having them on this site. Life is life, and not every moment can be about the horses. I'm in the middle of a book I'm having difficulty sticking with :-(

HorseOfCourse said...

Yes, NuzzMuzz - leave them in here. It is nice to get a good mix! Horses and reading are my two favourite things.

Paint Girl said...

The book sounds good to me! It is always hard to tell by the name or cover, how it will turn out. I love to read, and will read almost anything! Great review!

Callie said...

Sounds interesting. But I just can't get into reading. Wish I could, though, we always buy a book on CD, when we road trip and I love that!