I thought as it was Nietzsche, Rob might understand, but he just looked irritated.
"No," he said. "Not yet. What's that got to do with it?"
"Well, Nietzsche says that if you want to live as a free spirit, you can't be too attached to anyone or anything. You've got to live your life as a wanderer. It's difficult, and lonely, but it's your task, your secret destiny. You can't be chained up to hatred and love like other people. You have to live like a bird, fluttering here and there, flying upward, without any certainties. You have to live without yes, without no..."
Rob gave an exasperated sign. "Stop talking bollocks, Susannah. You're just trying to wriggle out of making a decision." (from A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy, pages 111-112)
I'm not big on philosophy. I just can't wrap my mind around it. I have no idea how I passed Philosophy 101 because all that abstract thinking made my head hurt. But I decided to read Charlotte Greig's A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy because I like coming-of-age stories, and I thought the addition of philosophy to relationship issues was a unique touch.
Greig tells the story of Susannah Jones, a 20-year-old philosophy student at Sussex University in the 1970s. Susannah lives with her boyfriend, Jason, a 30-year-old antiques dealer whose attention is consumed by a milk-teeth box that may have belonged to Princess Charlotte Augusta and could make him some serious dough if he can prove it was a gift from the Prince Regent. With Jason away for long stretches, Susannah gets romantically involved with a fellow philosophy student, Rob, who lives in a messy student apartment and promotes lecture strikes to protest Pinochet's regime in Chile.
Although I breezed through this 275-page book and never found myself bored, A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy never truly grabbed me. The main point of the book (and this tidbit is in the blurb on the back cover, so I'm not giving much away) is that Susannah finds herself pregnant...and of course, she doesn't know whether Jason or Rob is the father. This plot point was too cliché for my tastes. Given that the book takes place on a college campus in the 1970s, Susannah's friend, Fiona, spits out feminist ideology every chance she gets, and of course, Susannah must choose which man she wants and whether or not she wants an abortion.
Having Susannah delve into philosophy (with Greig covering Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and Søren Kierkegaard in three separate sections) to come to a decision was interesting, but I just didn't feel connected to any of the characters. Susannah seemed to care too much about what other people think, and I couldn't really relate to her situation at all. And neither Jason nor Rob seemed to be a great catch.
However, I think what kept me reading was Greig's writing style. The book is beautifully written, and I like how the philosophy was brought into the story, though I think it helps that it doesn't bother me to read things that don't necessarily align with my own personal beliefs.
Over the Christmas break, I'd started reading Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling and it had blown my mind, even more than Heidegger. In some ways, I wished I hadn't. It was too close to the bone. It was all about the biblical story of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac to God; about what it means to kill your own child; about how you can justify that to yourself or anyone else. I kept thinking, this guy's a Christian, and I'm not; this doesn't apply to me. But I knew it did, because Kierkegaard's God wasn't a father who told you what to do; his God was a conscience that tormented you day and night until you were forced to choose your fate for yourself. (pages 205-206)Greig also did a great job creating the setting. Susannah's words and tone transported me to the 1970s (or at least what I understand of the 1970s, as I was born toward the end of that decade).
The music wasn't like anything else I'd ever heard. It was slow and spacey and it drew you in. It sounded like a person starting to fall asleep, where everything starts going a bit weird and distorted, but at the same time you're being wrapped up in a delicious, warm haze so you want to stay there and start to dream. (page 19)That passage just screams 1960s and 1970s music for me, and it also brings me back to all the Hendrix we listened to in college...which caused our dorm room to be nicknamed the "acid room" though we never did anything of the kind. But I digress.
A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy was an okay read overall. I just couldn't connect to the story or the characters, and that's important to me. Still, I'd recommend it if you have an interest in philosophy and women's issues and are looking for something more than the usual chick lit.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy from BlueDot Literacy, LLC for review purposes.