Monday, December 04, 2006

I am Charlotte Simmons...

...And I've been fooling you all along!!!!



Actually, I am NOT Charlotte Simmons, but I have finally finished reading the Tom Wolfe novel of the same name. And because the mere mention of it when I bought it led to some degree of uproar from the cheap seats, I thought I would share my thoughts on it.

The Basic Plot:
Charlotte Simmons is a gentle teenage girl raised in the isolation of the mountains of North Carolina. She is an extremely intelligent, moral, god-fearing young woman, and she is awarded a place at Dupont, one of the most prestige (and fictional) universities in the U.S. So off she toddles, expecting to find an academic haven full of intelligent, well-spoken, and welcoming students. Instead she is thrust into a heaving den of promiscuity and 'sexiling,' where her morals begin to erode as she tries to fit in… (slut).

What I Thought:
I approached I am Charlotte Simmons with a degree of trepidation; I knew it hadn't received particularly glowing reviews, and indeed, I nearly bought it at the beginning of the year and decided against it, based on the what I'd read about it. This is another example of why you shouldn't always listen to reviews; sometimes it really is better to base an opinion on your own tastes. Or judge it by the cover which has a killer rack on it.

The general idea behind the novel appealed to me. I tend to like things like this, which probably explains why I love The OC. Also, I was intrigued to see how a writer in his seventies would approach writing a novel from the perspective of a 17 year-old girl. Would he fall flat on his face, basing Charlotte on some archaic concept of the teenaged female from his own youth? No, not at all. Tom Wolfe did his research. If you read this book without knowing the author you'd swear it was written by someone fresh out of college themselves. He's perfected the language and the style of the youth of today, a phrase which incidently makes me sound about 65.

Any criticisms? Well, yeah; it is, at 676 pages, a tad too long and does sag in places. That said, some of the criticisms levelled at the book do appear to be intentional - is Charlotte a little too prissy? Hell, yeah - you want her to let her hair down a bit, you might even dislike her in places for her superior attitude, but that's who she is, and it's essentially what the book is about.

I'd also like to mention the fact that Wolfe got an ward for the worst sex scene in 2004; he defended it saying that it wasn't supposed to be perfect, and I can see where he's coming from. She's a half-willing, incredibly drunk participant in a split-second shag - it ain't all candle lit rooms and soft music, my friends.

The Verdict:
Should you read it? Yeah, I think you should. I've not read any of Tom Wolfe's other novels, so I can't comment on how it compares, but I really liked this as a story in its own right. It wasn't an idealised picture perfect reflection on life at college, rather it was a painful snapshot of what real life can be; a life-changing moment; a desire to fit in; the constant struggle to fulfill your potential and the expectations of your loved ones.

I believe the novel has been optioned as a movie. Let's hope Hollywood doesn't screw it up and turn it into another teen movie with a sugary happy ending.


Tara said...

Seeing as how I don't think I've read anything by Wolfe, I won't have to worry about comparing the story to the rest of his. I'm not a big reader lately, but that book sounds interesting.

Miss T said...

It sounds great - oh and a ball-peen hammer is used to bash rivets into metal sheets.

I read the Amazon 'read inside' not so long ago and was actually a bit impressed. A lot of the reviewers over there seemed to have quite a bit of trouble believing a 17 year old girl was a virgin. Gosh - what is up with the world these days?

Thank God my uni days were filled with actual intellectual discussion* and trips to the pub.

* erm. Well, if you count mostly 'who'd you rather do - celebrity A or celebrity B'as intellectual

Tim said...

Tara - I say: give it a whirl! I enjoyed it, and to be honest I think it's got a bit of a bad press from the reviews. Definitely check it out at some point!

Miss T - That's what a ball-peen hammer is! Aaaah!! Well, he definitely bashed her rivets, let me tell you!

The world is a cold hard place these days, Miss T, a cold hard place. And it depends on which celebrities you were talking about...!

Dinah said...

I hate sugary happy endings! They fill me with rage. RAGE!

Tim said...

Simma down, Dinah, simma down!!

Although the word 'RAGE' next to your smiley picture is funny! I'm not sure I can take it seriously!!

Don't Hulk out on us Dinah!