June 10, 2009

A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy by Charlotte Grieg: Review

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Susannah Jones is a philosophy student in the 70's with a complicated love life. Her long time boyfriend, Jason, is ten years older than her, owns his own antique business and a swanky apartment. But things aren't as good as they seem and after another night of being stood up, Susannah starts sleeping with a fellow student, Rob. She sneaks around behind Jason's back with Rob for several weeks not able to decide between the two of them until she finds out she is preggers. Then the plot goes Degrassi High (Will she be a Spike or an Erica?)

About halfway through A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy by Charlotte Greig, I turned to my husband and said, "I don't think I'm going to finish this one." I persevered and got to the end though.

My first issue with this book was the characters. Susannah is so shallow. She only stays with Jason because she likes his apartment; she doesn't want to live in student housing. She spends a lot of time describing how long it takes her to get ready to go out and she's always concerned about how she looks to other people. Not to mention that she is sleeping with two guys but can't be bothered to remember to take her pill everyday! Okay, I get that that is the point of the book but it didn't endear me to her. Both of the guys are asshats (neither of them feels the need to wear a condom either). What does she see in either of them? Most of the other characters are stereotypical college people: the prof who chases his female students, the insensitive doctor, the scientists wear tweed, the artists wear black, the gay guy is a snappy dresser, etc.

The back of this book's description calls Girl's Guide a "romp" and funny. I find this misleading and confusing for the reader. I didn't find it funny at all. I'm sure any woman who finds herself in this situation of deciding between keeping her baby or having an abortion wouldn't either. In fact, I found parts of the book pretty grim. Something I didn't understand was how she talked to numerous people about her problem but not one mentions adoption as an option- not one! Why was this completely overlooked?

Just one more thing, the writing style at the beginning put me off. Susannah gives us the minutiae of her life: "I thought, I'll get one of those dishes where you can load up on potato salad at the counter." It gets better as she wakes up and grows up but it was an awkward beginning for me.

So, why did I read A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy? Once I got into it, I wanted to see how it would all play out. I also wanted to know where the philosophy would come in. She uses philosophy to solve her real world problem. That was actually cleverly done. At first, she looks to Nietzsche and uses his ideas to avoid making decisions. Then the cold reality of Heidegger hits and finally acceptance of her decisions with the advice of Kierkegaard.

Well, lots of other people thought this was a great book but I thought it was only okay. I never felt any real attachment to Susannah and it kept me from losing myself in the story. I can only tell you to read it for yourself and tell me what you think. It's a quick read at 270 pages.

Thanks to Other Press, LLC for the review copy.

11 comments :

  1. Sounds like this wasn't the book for you.

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  2. I admit this is on my wishlist - ever since SOPHIE'S WORLD, I've loved fiction that incorporates philosophy. But the things that bothered you would 100% bother me too, so.... yeah. Maybe not.

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  3. Hmm I dont think thiscis for me. Nice review.

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  4. Nice review. I think what spoke to me most about this book was the title - it's an enticing one, but it does sound like it promises more fun than the book actually presents.

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  5. I also have a hard time getting into a book if I can't relate to the characters, or have a hard time getting attached to them. Shallow, selfish characters are at the top of my "can't-stand" list!

    Sorry you didn't enjoy this one!

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  6. Well, guys, I do feel bad that I didn't have many nice things to say, but I guess there are going to be books I just don't like. Plenty of other people liked it though, so you never know, you might too.

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  7. I felt drawn into the story, but geez, yeah. She was so shallow! I didn't like Susannah at all. I disagreed with her on most everything. I thought she was bizarre and ridiculous and immoral. And, yet, I liked the setting and there was something that pulled me in. Maybe just wanting to know how things would play out, as you said. I did like the references to philosophy and the way she used philosophy to help her make her decision . . . even though I thought it was an awful choice. I wasn't back to rating books, yet, but I guess I'd give it a 3/5 for holding my attention.

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  8. It doesn't sound like a book I'd enjoy either. Kudos for finishing it.

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  9. Sorry to hear this wasn't what you were hoping for.
    I was really into the idea of the book, and I still want to read it mainly for the inclusion of philosophy.

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  10. I never really felt a connection to Susannah, either. I didn't much care for her decisions for the most part, but I did enjoy how she came to terms with making a difficult decision through philosophy.

    I really liked your review, so I've linked to it here.

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  11. Thanks for the honest review. Sorry this book was a bit disappointing. It's in my pile, and I'm looking forward to it. At least it's a short read. I give you a lot of credit for finishing it when you weren't exactly liking it.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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