Sittenfeld’s US Politics and Life

This week, we return to Harry, who is becoming a regular columnist. This time he invites us to consider US life and politics seen through the lens of American novelist Curtis Sittenfeld:

“Having recommended Sarah Waters to readers of this blog, I’d now love to recommend Curtis Sittenfeld.

“My favourite of her novels is Prep, set in an elite US boarding school, and told from the point of view of one of its students, Lee Fiora. The adolescent voice is pitch perfect and Lee’s trials and challenges make you wince and smile in recognition. It’s a funny, brutal, open-eyed look at the lives of privileged teens.

“Like Prep, American Wife was longlisted for the Women’s Prize For Fiction (at the time the Orange Prize), and is considered Sittenfeld’s tour de force. It’s a fictional biography of the wife of a Republican President, who herself leans more towards the Democratic end of the spectrum: a thinly veiled portrait of Laura Bush, wife of George W. Bush.

“Again, the uncertainties of the teenage years are unflinchingly conveyed, again with remarkable empathy for the adolescent narrator. This novel’s longer than Prep: it covers much more of its protagonist’s life, right up to her time in the White House.

“If you enjoy American Wife, you should also read Sittenfeld’s latest book Rodham, a ‘what-if?’ novel imagining Hilary Rodham had never married Bill Clinton.

“As you’ll have guessed, Sittenfeld is strong on political fables, and on the coming-of-age experience. Another frequent theme is the search of a partner and the family and societal expectations which go along with it — see The Man of My Dreams and Eligible, a modern re-telling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

“And all these ideas crop up in Sittenfeld’s recent short story collection, You Think It, I’ll Say It, which might be a good place to start exploring this author. Beware though: she’s addictive.”

Among other notable discoveries this week was that cricket reports are Abdulrazak Gurnah‘s comfort reading. I have a good deal of sympathy with that, but the article where he discusses his reading provides a fascinating insight in to the literature which inspires other writers. Read it here.

And the lighthouse which inspired Virginia Woolf’s magnificent novel To the Lighthouse has been commemorated. Perhaps we should feature Virginia Woolf at some point.