BOOK REVIEW: Paulina and Fran

Note: I’ve never written book reviews before – as in, ever. This is an experiment, if you like. It’s not perfect, I know, but I feel this is a good way for me to explore more content on this blog, which is certainly lacking consistency.

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I’d thought of writing book reviews on here because of this book, actually. Written by Rachel B. Glaser, I admit that I ultimately didn’t find much pleasure from this book, but I do have to admit that there was something about it which made me determined see it through ’til the end, and not just because I don’t like to leave books unfinished.

Glaser frequently switches narrative, between the two titular characters, and does so in a way which means there’s rarely a lull; she has perfected the art of knowing exactly when to change perspective. The novel follows the characters through a fairly long timespan, from their days at art college, past their graduation, to when they’re in their mid-twenties, which should give the reader ample time to get to know our main characters…

…which is both a good and bad thing. I decided against using the word ‘protagonist’ in the previous paragraph, and this is due to the fact that neither of the characters come across as people you want to see succeed, as you would with, say, Frodo Baggins or Jane Eyre. Fran is dull and overly, infuriatingly naïve, and Paulina, to put it bluntly, is an absolutely horrific human being with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

I can see what Glaser is attempting to do, and that is to show the power imbalance in the friendship. Paulina is supposed to be confident, arrogant, domineering and strong-willed, and Fran, by contrast, is much more innocent and unsure of herself, and, as a result is captivated by and dependent on Paulina’s more extroverted personality. How this comes across, however, is Paulina being needlessly cruel and vain, and Fran as being simpering and, ultimately, a bit dim. About three or four pages before the end of the book, she makes a decision which very nearly made me put the book down in exasperation and not see it through to the end. I just cannot comprehend how none of these characters, including the various side characters (with, perhaps, the exception of Fran’s friend, Gretchen), have changed at all from when they were at university, and I think this is the biggest problem. There’s no character arcs, for any of them. Paulina starts off as a malicious, self-obsessed bitch and remains one for the 6+year timespan of the book, never getting the comeuppance you as the reader really want to see her receive, and Fran is so hopeless it stops being endearing and makes one want to shake some sense into her.

Another thing I’ve noted, is how dismally this book depicts art college. Everyone seems overly scathing of each other’s work, and jealous and bitter of others’ successes. No one seems to have a positive word to say about anyone, and while a fair few of the art students I’ve met (cough*film*cough) are fairly stuck-up and dislikable, the vast majority of university students aren’t that dismissive of each other. Some of the commentary in relation to being an art school graduate are interesting, however, and it can be engaging to see how these characters fair in the post-college world – although, is New York City really the only decent, dare I say acceptable, place to live in the USA?

Despite my complaints, and I appreciate there are many, though, I can’t say it’s terrible. It’s gripping, and, to be fair, you do want to see what happens to these characters (namely, that Paulina faces some consequences and Fran finds her feet), but you don’t enjoy doing so. I wouldn’t necessarily say not to read it, as other readers have loved it, the narrative is captivating, and the concept intriguing if you’re a social drama fan. Just, give it a miss if you like to root for your characters.