Sunday, 8 July 2012
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
I'm going to come right out and say that I liked Prep a lot and the main reason for this was that I could identify with Lee completely. At primary school, I was picked out as a 'bright' pupil and encouraged to apply for a selective secondary school where I had to take a series of exams and attend a few interviews to get in. It wasn't a fee-paying school like Lee's, but it was by far and away the best school in the area in terms of results and wealthy parents got tutors for their children to help them get in. I was the only person in my new class who hadn't been tutored and I was the poorest person there by quite a way. Don't get me wrong, my family never struggled, but I was surrounded by people who jetted to the Alps for skiing during half term holidays and spent the summer on Carribean islands; I dreaded the 'what did you do on your holidays?' conversation every September. Like Lee, I might have developed a bit of a chip on my shoulder and become defensive in the face of so much privilege.
I was also socially awkward as a teen and any shy person will find it easy to relate to Lee. I understand why other readers find her frustrating as a main character but shyness is not a logical thing - I too used to desperately wish not to be noticed by others and then feel lonely when no one did. I too was hyper aware of others and thought they they would be hyper aware of me when confident people just don't feel that way. So whilst at times I wanted to shake Lee, I found her completely believable and reading the book was a bit like revisiting my own teenage years.
That's not to say the book was without fault; the characterisation was excellent but the plot could have done with tightening up a bit. In the middle sections it dragged and didn't seem to be heading in any clear direction. Prep was a long book at 400+ pages and could have comfortably lost a hundred of them without the reading experience suffering.
Prep is a book that's not going to work for everyone. It will work best for fans of The Bell Jar, or for keen observers of human nature, or for anyone who has ever felt shy or underwhelming around others.
First Published: 2005
Score: 4 out of 5