I’ve finished my second book on my 65 Book Challenge and I’m on a roll! You can check my Goodreads account to see what’s up next, how many stars I’m giving each novel, and peruse the rest of the reading list, if you like.
What She Saw by Lucinda Rosenfeld was my second read and an interesting one at that. But be warned: this book is, if anything, a book about men. Each of the 15 chapters is titled with the name of a boy or a man that the protagonist, Phoebe Fine, encounters between the ages of ten and twenty-four. I hesitate to say that each of these fifteen could be considered as one of Phoebe’s love interests as Rosenfeld seems bent on including even the most trifling and traumatic encounters – all of which leave their mark upon the main character.
This means you should further be warned that this is not a happy novel. It starts rather depressingly, continues with the morbid delight similar to that achieved by chewing on a hangnail even though it hurts you, and finishes with a less than satisfying finale. Phoebe seems destined to choose terrible men for several reasons; she vacillates between blaming her upbringing (apparently being forced to study classical violin has something to do with Phoebe’s dreadful choices), her difficulties fitting in in high school, and the success of her older sister which she finds impossible to live up to.
And, despite having a relatively stable upbringing with two parents who were involved with her throughout her childhood, Phoebe mystifyingly radiates towards defining her own self-worth according to the men she dates. A product of the modern age of equality and feminism, I at times found myself mentally asking Phoebe how she could possibly be so silly. She develops into a character that is all about men – there is nothing else that defines her or gives her individuality except the notches on her bed post. Which left me feeling slightly empty after the novel was finally finished. One can’t help but grow tired of a character that is determined to be miserable throughout and continuously droning about how attracted she is to jerks because of some vague and undefined reason.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a decent novel and worth reading if you are in the mood for it. It’s well written and Rosenfeld does an excellent job giving the reader a female view on schoolgirl crushes, dating, and the other twists and turns of a romantically active lifestyle. Even though you may fail to completely understand Phoebe, you will find yourself getting to know her in an intimate way – and, in my opinion, this is what truly gives this novel substance.