Rating: 3.5 stars
From the name, I was expecting Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion to be somewhat wry and humorous. It was, in fact, very earnest throughout. It follows the story of Greer, an undergraduate at Ryland College whose parents prevented her from getting into her chosen Ivy League school by not filling out the financial aid forms properly. Greer has a boyfriend at Princeton, and a sassy feminist activist and (surprise, lesbian!) best friend Zee who introduces her to feminist icon Faith Frank at a university lecture, after Greer is groped by a creepy guy at a party. The rest of the book follows them into adulthood and forms a sort of contemplation of the complexity of trying to live a ‘feminist’ life, do right by other women and the world, and fight to find meaning.
It’s written well and engagingly – it trips along, and isn’t too heavy on detail. There was one bugbear of mine, which was that a plot-essential pet kept being referred to as a ‘turtle’ when I am 99% sure it was meant to be a tortoise (it walked in the grass, lived in a dry shoebox not a tank, etc etc). I actually ended up looking it up and apparently tortoise is a subset of turtle, so perhaps I am justly slain by mine own pedantry, but it was quite distracting nonetheless. It makes one wonder if there was ever a point where an editor asked, ‘Are you sure this isn’t meant to be a tortoise?’
I’m sure there are a lot of readers (without my unwarranted tortoise-based expectations) who would really enjoy this book – it was very typical of that kind of contemporary American novel that follows the lives of young men and women in order to reveal that women are troubled and unfulfilled by every type of relationship, and that many men are emotionally inadequate, apart from the one who isn’t and will happily be the partner of our enduring ingenue (because somehow even in these on-brand feminist contemporary novels there is something of the ingenue about the main female character – with a more cynical best friend, mentor or other foil to balance her out). Greer’s best friend Zee felt like quite a hollow stereotype, and Greer’s journey from quiet little mouse was all too predictable. The book even ended with one of those end-of-harry-potter chapters that ties everything together in a neatly optimistic bow. Discussions of feminism were overt, and every moment a teachable moment about friendship or relationships or the professional world.
None of this is bad per se, of course; it was a novel that had a clear sense of what it wanted the reader to think at the end. An interesting and enjoyable read which I think would appeal to anyone who doesn’t mind a bit of a lesson in their books.
Reviewed by Louise