This book includes an absurdist play (Caligula) with a demented director, and it seems like perhaps the author was going for some sort of absurdist story to go with it. Penelope is a story about a freshman’s first year at Harvard University, except it doesn’t really follow most people’s idea of what that would entail. Honestly, her experience somewhat resembles mine. Not in the details, but in the broader sense.
Penelope is cautiously optimistic when she arrives at Harvard, but since she isn’t a legacy student, she really doesn’t know what is going on. It appears that most of the orientations and things are much more important than she is lead to believe by the information packages she receives. She quickly feels like she is missing out on forging new friendships. She is reluctantly embraced by some guys in her dorm, one of which is obviously attracted to her. She begins to navigate classes and dining hall experiences with unwanted advances from her TF (teaching fellow, like a grad assistant) and her neighbor. She has a chaste affair with a European gentleman. Her roommates are not into her at all.
Aside from several men trying to aggressively court her, I can understand her loneliness and anguish at not having had the college experience that I hoped for. The part that I can’t really relate to is how she reacts to it. She seems fairly oblivious until the end when she “realizes” that she is not making any inroads in these various relationships. She barely has any sort of character arc at all. The whole thing is somewhat depressing but none of the people that she meets are nice at all, and most of them are downright awful. The academic portion is pretty unrealistic too, as are the course titles, but I feel like that was an intentional choice meant to show that Harvard academics are pretentious and not really worth anything in the real world. It’s part of why I think that the absurdist play is supposed to be a reflection of the world of this book.
There really isn’t much more to say about the book. Apparently there is a book group discussion guide and I’m really curious to look at it and see what there is even to discuss about this book. It was not what I was expecting based on the cover art – which goes to show that you really shouldn’t base a book on its cover.
This book fulfills the book based entirely on its cover requirement for the challenge.