Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Sallinger, ‘Sweet Valley High as written by George Eliot’, Silvia Plath… Dead Poet’s Society… Clueless… The OC.
Not a list of my favourite things, but a combination of the comparisons plastered all over the front cover, back cover, and inside pages of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep. Opinions of reviewers from The New Yorker, The Observer, The Independent on Sunday… and I thought the book sounded really interesting.
Prep is the story of 14-year-old Lee Fiora, a scholarship girl at a rich boarding school in the United States. Like most 14-year olds, she wants to fit in with the crowd, be popular, and get noticed by boys. And… well, that’s about it, really.
My first impressions were mixed: the first-person narrative suggested a self-centred and slightly dull character, but I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, sensing a slight oddity of character reminiscent of Joanne Harris’ Gentlemen and Players. There was a sense of imminent tension and suspicion which promised a lot. Perhaps she’ll turn out to be some kind of sociopath, I thought to myself. Now that would be exciting.
By page sixty, I’d written in my notes: “But is this tension realised? Revisit this: at the moment it seems a bit directionless. Something big has to happen so otherwise I will be disappointed.”
But Lee is a boring character with absolutely no personality. Her opinions are based on class, race, appearance and wealth: she assumes that attending an expensive school will make her happy, and can’t comprehend why the richer pupils aren’t happy, or popular, when they’re so wealthy. Surely everyone would want to be their friend because they’re rich and they have long blonde hair? Eurgh.
By page 130, I was bored and frustrated. Absolutely nothing had happened, except for a few short scenes which didn’t seem to be building up into any kind of climax or incident. The only tension was created by my expectations: expectations which were fuelled by my experiences of reading other, conventionally structured books which used tension, action, character, and story to fuel the narrative. I couldn’t envisage how the book would climax or even stutter to a boring, deflated end. In my notes, I wrote: “Either this is building up to something elaborate, created from all the tiny threads of story, or it’s frustratingly badly structured. Even if it is building up to something, I should be engaged by now.”
Around page 260, I closed the book and gave up. I don’t know whether Lee Fiora turned out to be an interesting character, or whether anything remotely interesting happened in the remaining 200 pages. Even if it did, the wait was too long.