Author: Rebecca Harrington
Publisher: Virago Press, 2013
Secondary characters all have their quirks and are generally not likeable, perhaps existing as exaggerated archetypes of the students you might recall from your own college or university days. Predictably, Penelope gets involved with a highly unsuitable boy, while the obviously suitable one ends up dating someone else.
That the characters themselves seem so obtuse and unaware of what is going on around them doesn’t ring true. Not much happens in this book, which can pretty much be summed up as “socially inept woman attends Harvard, sleeps with a heartless cad and acts in a terrible play”. We follow Penelope from one snatch of stilted dialogue to the next, all the while silently yelling for her to get a life.
Granted, there were points in the story when I found myself vaguely amused at the author’s observations of life at Harvard, but then Penelope’s floundering became tiresome again. Eventually, when she gets a little spine near the end, it’s not with any earth-shattering Oprah-worthy “A-ha” moment.
In conclusion, I’m not quite sure what the author was trying to achieve. The book switches between satire and sincerity, so that at its close it comes across as an uneasy and somewhat lukewarm mixture of the two.
The writing is simplistic and the dialogue feels unnatural; whether this was intentional, I don’t know. Lack of plot or character development don’t help this vaguely humorous story that may amuse some. But it could definitely have been better if there’d been a little more voema.