Who implied Dean was unworthy because she was an english major? Who thought she was boring because they didn’t get her literary witticisms? This reads like she's got something to prove. I’ve yet to see a character so undeservingly bullied as Tina. She’s pre-med, she doesn’t read, she doesn’t have the intellectual weapons to be awed by Janet, but that hardly make her deserving of the oceans of irritation that Janet bestows upon her “healthy hair”.
...And I can tell that Dean is angry by this token: When I read what she wrote about non-readers, I thought, not of what she was saying, but of herself. When an arguer argues dispassionately he thinks only of the argument; and the reader cannot help thinking of the argument too. If she had written dispassionately about non-readers and scientists and lacking imaginations, one would not have been angry either. One would have accepted the fact, as one accepts the fact that a pea is green or a canary yellow. So be it, I should have said. But I have been angry because she was angry.
And thus I let Virginia Woolf write my review. Dean’s fair game: it’s exactly what she does herself, namely, quote Keats and Shakespeare and the Iliad and let them do the heavy lifting of giving flesh to her characters. But the only bones in their bodies are to be their appreciation and quoting of said authors, to the point that I begin to wonder if they have any idea of their own to say. Except about food. Oh, they have plenty to say about food. As I’m talking about bones, I have one to pick with the afterword: “It would also be unwise, though certainly in accord with human nature, to identify the author with the protagonist.” Oh come on, Dean! Of course Janet is you! You wouldn’t be so defensive on behalf of someone else. And I don’t appreciate the pat in the head of “in accord with human nature”.
It’s been said that this book is for english majors, and it’s true: it’s for english majors in the same sense that “The Mental, Moral and Physical Inferiority of Women” is for men. If not, you might wonder why you should so lightly be identified with your major in mostly unflattering manner. Or why these works you love should be so cavalierly lumped together (the greek, shakespeare and scottish ballads have little in common), having not seen it in a college education. Perhaps you’ll be irritated that the book sees no need to acknowledge the existence of the laws of science even when it’s dealing with them, for example with unnecessarily magic pregnancies despite hormone treatments. You’ll wonder why this lack of internal coherence extends to ghosts and english actors. And if you do, you will not to forgive the clear writing tics and the fact that the entire emotional scope of Janet seems to include merely interest, maniacal laughter, isolation and crankiness. In other words, she is a bitch.
Do not take me on faith:
“Janet managed not to laugh again; if that had been her own quilt, she would have been furious.”
"Look," said Janet, irritated, "if the thing you liked best to do in the world was read, and somebody offered to pay you room and board and give you a liberal-arts degree if you would just read for four years, wouldn't you do it?"
She’s selfish, conceited, and spectacularly unselfaware. It drove me to distraction; it made me slug through what could have been a fantastic idea.
There also seems to be a problem in Dean’s writing of suspense, which is non existent, and humour, that she refuses to share with her reader. She doesn’t laugh at funny things or quips or jokes, but at situations that she herself creates and often explains after
they have their laugh. The Skeat and the Schiller episodes elicit authentic explosions of hilarity in Janet; but the reader is left cold, along with the characters too out of the loop, uncool and antiglamour to know the college folklore.
PS: I liked the book! I liked Keats and Shakespeare and the ballad of Tam Lin! But Dean I didn’t. It’s awkward. If this review feels at hominem, that’s because it is. I’ve got nothing really against the basic events of the plot. And I do recommend it.