I came to this novel quite excited by the blurb, and looking forward to a story built around a strong female mentoring relationship. It offers many overt, and some more subtle, messages about the role that mentors play in our lives, the value of friendships, what impact or legacy we have on the people in our life, and the importance of truth above all. Altruistic much, I hear you exclaim! Fear not, the devil in the detail here is neither preached nor delivered in a you’re only a feminist if you do this kind of way. I learnt the most in this story from the character flaws and the limitations (and failings) of their relationships, rather than from any success story narrative.
The story principally follows Greer from her high school days through the first few years of her career. At first, I worried that this would be another introspective campus novel (i.e. the elements I disliked in Elif Batuman’s “The Idiot”) but quickly became entranced when the story shifted perspectives to others including Greer’s boyfriend Cory, her college friend Zee, and her mentor Faith Frank particularly. I think their perspectives helped shape and deepen the central narrative concerning Greer.
There are parts of the main character, Greer, that I think many young professional women will connect with(inevitable with it being an inherently feminist text). Her uncertainty, her search for meaning in her career, her initial navigation of all manner of relationships. I attended the Barnes & Noble inaugural book club this week which discussed this book, and indeed from the women in attendance at all stages in life, Greer was the character that most could personally identify with. What distinguished Greer from many other protagonists immersed in feminist narratives was her imperfection, and how central this was to her story. Greer doesn’t pursue success abstractly, but instead searches for a deeper meaning and connection with her career. At a time when women are being told to “lean in” and break the glass ceiling (albeit largely in non-fiction), it is refreshing to read a perspective that redefines what that may mean to women.
I think that for those women who have been fortunate to have had a stellar female mentor, or in turn have mentored an inspiring younger woman, this book will speak to you. While the mentor relationship depicted is far from ideal, what it does demonstrate is how much meaning can be derived from it over the course of your career, and more importantly your life.
As a closing thought, I did agree strongly with a comment made by Matthew Sciarappa in his video review of this novel. I too did not think the title effectively captured the true essence of the story, and I really liked his suggestion instead of titling it “Outside Voice” (a reference to the book that Greer herself writes in the novel). I’d highly recommend checking out Matthew’s review as he articulates some really interesting views, particularly about the marketing of the book and how that conflicts with what it is inherently about it.
I absolutely loved this book, and am now eagerly anticipating going through Meg Wolitzer’s earlier works. Any recommendations for where to start (I’m leaning toward “The Interestings”)?