A story of friendship, art, sex, and curly hair: an audaciously witty debut tracing the pas de deux of lust and love between two young, uncertain, conflicted art students.
At their New England art school, Paulina and Fran both stand apart from the crowd. Paulina is striking and sexually adventurous—a self-proclaimed queen bee with a devastating mean-girl streak. With her gorgeous untamed head of curly hair, Fran is quirky, sweet, and sexually innocent. An aspiring painter whose potential outstrips her confidence, she floats dreamily through criticisms and dance floors alike. On a school trip to Norway, the girls are drawn together, each disarmed by the other’s charisma.
(Some spoilers, sorry).
I was sent this book for an honest review by the wonderful people at Granta Books.
From what I had heard, this didn’t really sound like my cup of tea, but after reading the blurb I was intrigued – the cover art was also quite striking too.
It was a very easy-paced book but I found it difficult to follow in parts as some events were quite loosely described, and I found myself having to flick back a few pages to see what I had overlooked or missed.
The two main characters, Paulina and Fran took me back to my days at college and the typical teenage girl dramas (without being too childish) that I remember all too well.
As characters however, both Paulina and Fran were quite unlikeable, and I found it difficult to properly side with either one of them. Paulina was brash and quite a loose cannon in her behaviour, though she did have some nice poetic lines which was a great reflection on the author.
Fran was the opposite end of the spectrum, and was quite an unassuming and timid character, and frankly a little bit dull for me. The mix of the two sounded like it would be fireworks the whole way through, but this never really seemed to be the case.
The book itself started off well, and kept me interested with the witty one-liners from Paulina and her erratic behaviour – she reminded me of a few Paulina’s I’ve known myself over the years.
However, this ended quite quickly as the story went on and I just found the comedic side of the writing seemed to disappear and the story felt a bit flat.
Paulina somehow managed to go from art school dropout to owning a major hair product company in the matter of maybe a few pages – which again, had me turning back in confusion thinking I must have missed a chapter or two.
It felt like the book had been given an ultimatum that something had to happen so this stroke of luck for Paulina was shoe-horned in, it was terribly unbelievable, and made the rest of the book quite difficult to get through.
Fran never really gets out of her funk, and just sort of floats through the book wishing she could be an artist without actually getting off her backside to make it happen – I know we all know someone like this, but to read pages and pages of it is horribly frustrating.
There is also a few sexual references and encounters between Paulina and Fran, which while they appeared to come out of nowhere (perhaps this was Rachel’s intention) also seemed to be quite unsurprising (perhaps due to the rushed and shoe-horned effect of the book). It felt like this element had been included purely to make the book more outlandish, which wasn’t the case at all.
Overall, I feel the story lacked any real substance, which is a shame as it had such promise. Had a few story elements been changed here and there, this could have been a really great book.
With that said, I have seen a number of great reviews for this book, with some newspapers pinning it as a ‘must-read’, so perhaps it’s not just my cup of tea.