Penelope by Rebecca Harrington

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “Meet Penelope O’Shaugnessy, Harvard freshman. Armed with her Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights poster and party conversation modelled on the repartee of Noel Coward, Penelope is ready to take her place on campus. But where are the kindred spirits who will share her passion for Morse code and Tetris? Her roommates are baffling: Emma is signing up for insanely difficult courses and obsessing about something called a ‘finals club’; and the rarely glimpsed Lan has painted her room black and shut the door. Gustav, a dashing, rumpled-linen-suit-wearing upperclassman of uncertain European origins has caught Penelope’s eye, but he never seems to be in the freshman dining hall, so it is unlikely she will ever find out if he matches up to her hero, Hercule Poirot”

REVIEW: Being in my first year of university, the idea of reading a book based upon a girl (who sounded like even more of an oddball than myself!) going through exactly the same experience in an American setting really appealed to me. Penelope as a character is highly unusual, but this makes her endearing to the reader and gives them a strong sense of protectiveness over her. Her difficulty in making friendships is brutally honest, not sugar-coated as it may be in other similar novels, as are her struggles with men. Penelope is not a typical character in that she is not universally admired, and neither does she find the perfect man – in fact, rather the opposite. Her relationships with Ted and Gustav are very different, but both present their own challenges and are two of the most ‘real’ relationships I have ever had the good fortune to read about in a novel of this kind. I grew to really hope for Penelope’s happiness by the end of the novel, and, although not perhaps happy, Penelope ends the novel in a much better position than she started it. Although the ending could be described as ambiguous, I found it to be a satisfying conclusion to a light-hearted, easy to read, honest work of fiction. My main issue with the book, however, was the speech. Conversation between the characters sometimes felt stilted, perhaps a little too precise for everyday colloquialism. This did not spoil the plotline of the book though, and I would recommend it particularly to university students. 

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