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The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke Paperback – 12 Mar 2000
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About the Author
Barbara Riddle received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Brandeis, but in the process of writing her coming-of-age novel "The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke," she became committed to writing as her true vocation. Her passion is helping young women to develop self-confidence and meet all challenges with humor and resilience. A native of New York City, she is currently at work on a memoir of growing up as the child of free-spirited bohemian parents in 1950's Greenwich Village, as well as being involved in the development of "Girl Pretending to Read Rilke" into an independent feature film in the style of "An Education." She divides her time between New York City, St. Petersburg, Florida and her extended family in Sweden. Her daughter Laramie is a filmmaker in Los Angeles and her stepdaughter Simona is a writer in Stockholm. Among her favorite auhtors she lists Jean Rhys, Katherine Mansfield, Nadine Gordiimer, Amy Hempel, Carson McCullers, Anton Chekhov, Leo Tolstoy, Truman Capote and Ivan Klima. She blogs at www.poodlesontheroof.com and her website is www.girlpretending.com. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments or questions. She loves to hear from her readers. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The 60s had brought remarkable opportunities for young women. At any other time in history, could a young woman have obtained an internship with a Harvard Junior Fellow? Before Betty Friedan's book hit the stores, had women ever realized all of the possibilities available to them?
But Bronwen is in a state of conflict, too. She is ready for love, but she also wants her life as a scientist.
Over the next few weeks, we watch as she deals with the conflicts in her life, including a less-than-attentive boyfriend, another possible love interest, and her life of commitment to her work. Just as she is ready to complete her summer, sad news erupts. And shortly afterward, she is forced to face another obstacle to her goals.
I enjoyed engaging with this young woman as she confronted her personal and work issues. I liked how she protected herself with her Rilke collection, for as much as she loved science, a part of her clung to another kind of inner life:
"Zipping up her Army surplus parka, she bent her head into the late afternoon breeze. In the pouch-like pocket of her jacket, next to the letter, she felt for the presence of her trusty ubiquitous Rilke volume, her shield against unwanted dinner conversation...."
The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke took me back to my own younger days, when I, too, had to consider my options and make choices. Sometimes impossible choices. 4 stars.
This is a brilliant piece of fiction and social commentary. I reread it just a few days ago, returning with vivid memories to a text that had given me great pleasure a while back. Riddle makes us feel the momentous societal turn of the 60’s. Women were suddenly free to enjoy their sexuality and were (almost) being encouraged to liberate their minds at the same time. The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke gives us a sense of how overwhelming that whirlwind of change was.
As richly presented as this is, one has first and foremost the experience of simply reading a first-rate literary work. The characters are beautifully rendered in a prose that meticulously (and often hilariously) develops individual languages—of the tongue and of the body—for each. Take Felix, disappointed to find his wife determinedly asleep after his long day at the lab:
"If he remembered correctly, there was only one slightly stale jelly doughnut left over from yesterday somewhere in the kitchen. Felix extricated himself from the warmth of his marriage bed and lurched naked down the hall of their Cambridge flat, leaning way over on the balls of his feet, his soft belly plopping gently in the dark as he hurried towards his goal."
The amazing thing for me was rediscovering the turns of phrase, the elegant movement of the storyline, the always sharp but understated social insights and yet experiencing all the excitement of a first read. It is a very rare book that I have difficulty putting down, but Riddle’s novel falls decisively into that category.
This novel is about a female science student working in a lab at Harvard in the summer of 1963. She is gifted, but diffident at the beginning of a tumultuous summer and by the end of the story she is much wiser. The author, Barbara Riddle, manages to provide enough specifics about that time and place without making the book limiting. I attended college at the opposite end of the same decade and I was a social science major. Still, so much of the heroine’s experience was familiar to me and to anyone coming-of-age. The story develops easily—I finished the book in two enjoyable sessions. The writing is flawless and never gets in the reader’s way.