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3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
The Man of My Dreams
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on 21 October 2017
I have just finished reading it for the second time; the first time I was 20, in a serious, loving, but difficult relationship, with not the greatest self esteem, and I felt sympathetic, even empathetic, towards protagonist Hannah. Now, years later, I read Hannah's story and feel a sense of relief that I have grown up a little bit. I still enjoy the book, maybe more now that I can understand the lessons.

Hannah appears preoccupied with romance and boyfriends from early on, and throughout the book, you get the impression that it is really all that matters in her life. This may put a lot of readers off, but the theme of the book is more than that. Hannah is, by nature or nurture, very introverted, very socially awkward, very wary of people, and very conscious - painfully conscious of herself, painfully conscious of others, and painfully conscious of how she fits in comparison to others. Many readers can actually relate, at least a little, to Hannah's experiences: her first college party, which is awful, the peer pressure, the feeling that you are out of place and unwanted, surrounded by people that seem to instinctively know what they're doing and flock together as expected, though what is expected is never verbalised. Many girls and young women compare themselves unfavourably to other girls, as Hannah does, particularly in light that guys seem to love these girls, and she wonders, why not her? Hannah is not kissed until her early twenties, as she tries to navigate the murky and confusing waters of relating to other people. She has appalling self esteem - another thing that may put readers off - but it is very relatable. She seems unlikable, at times, sometimes downright mean, but when you are trying to understand the world, understand people, and understand relationships, it is actually quite natural to be cynical, sarcastic and angry at the very people, the social rules and hierarchy, that makes you feel inferior and powerless. Hannah may be unlikable, but, she is real.

I feel like I have grown up since first reading this novel, because Hannah's relationship errors seem so obvious to me now. She makes bad choices, puts herself in bad situations, and you think, "Why, my dear, why?" But the reason is that a lot of people do, in their late teens, their twenties, when life is very busy, when relationships are very confusing, and when technically, your brain is still developing. I can't relate to most of her dating errors, but I can relate to her: her feeling of being outside looking in, wondering if her dreams, the same dream shared by everyone else, will come true someday, eventually, and with who. She learns along the way, her choices improve, and we feel that Hannah grows. On the surface, this is a coming-of-age novel about dating, sex, and romantic relationships. Deeper, it is about societal norms, the way people respond and relate to eachother, not only sexually and romantically, but platonic; it's about discovering who you are, and where you belong. How much do we need another person? Can you be happy alone? Single? What is it that you want in life? Who is it? Discovering the answers to these questions can, temporarily at least, lead you into wrong choices. That's life. Hannah is learning and actually, we're learning, too.

I love Prep more, but Man of My Dreams gets a place on my bookshelf at last because Curtis Sittenfeld is gripping and captures the reality of youth so well. There are funny moments, but overall the book is fairly dark. Being young is scary. And even if you don't want to sit down and have a latte with the character, or declare her a literary role model, you get it. It's not about role models. It's about life. And sometimes, particularly when you're feeling down and confused about your own life, all you actually want is to lie in bed and read, not about a warrior woman, but about a young woman who gets it. Hannah's story has helped me see that my relationship choices have been smarter and more mature, but also that I still have a fair way to go on myself. That is why I like Curtis Sittenfeld's books: because I get it. When you come away knowing more about yourself that you didn't realise before, the book has worked as intended.
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on 11 December 2016
This book is a series of episodes in the life of Hannah Gravener, starting in adolescence and ending when she is in her late twenties. Nearly all of them feature a man who is in some way unsatisfactory - too nice, serially unfaithful, unattainable or, in the case of her father, controlling and scary.

I can tell that the author believed in her heroine, but perhaps this blinded her to the fact that Hannah isn't particularly interesting and the trajectory of her life is not very different from that of many young women of her generation. It's possible to write a great book in which nothing much happens, but this isn't it. The writing needed to be a lot sharper for it to work.
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on 29 April 2017
On time, as expected, no hassles, Happy
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on 11 September 2006
I was mad about Curtis Sittenfeld's first novel, "Prep" and gave it to several friends who all raved about it, so I rushed to buy her second novel. This is an easy read and she certainly writes well, describing very believable characters. I did find the main character, Hannah, rather too similar to the character of Lee in "Prep", and I will be interested to see whether more variation can be shown with her next novel. The story spans 14 years from when Hannah is 14 and shows her growing up and the difficulties she encounters with the opposite sex. Although it was an absorbing and light read, good for passing a long journey for example, I found it disturbingly depressing. Hannah has social problems with men in general, her peers and her family, and is not very likable so by the end of the book I felt pretty unsympathetic and wished she'd just pull herself together. It reminded me of an adage a friend of mine coined which was "just because someone is shy doesn't mean they're nice!" I'm sure people like Hannah do exist, I'm just not sure I want to read an entire book about them failing to seize the day and I ended up feeling slightly down heartened and drained as if an acquaintance I didn't like very much had spent hours describing their self inflicted problems to me! But there's no doubt this author really can write and I look forward to seeing what she does next.
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on 28 November 2010
Unlike most of the other reviewers I loved the character of Hannah. She is socially awkward, prickly, obsessive, grudge-bearing, sometimes petulant, and comes across as slightly Aspergers the way she misreads so many situations and other people's motives.

I think criticising the novel because of Hannah's faults misses the point. Sittenfeld has knowingly created a realistic, flawed character, not a cardboard cut-out heroine. She grows and changes throughout the novel, learns to be more self-aware, but is still recognisably the same person. The plot is slightly episodic rather than a tidy linear narrative with all the loose ends tied up- but Sittenfield manages to gets away with it, offering up a slice of life rather than a strongly plotted novel. Ok, I'm biased. Read it as a promise of what's to come in terms of the writer's outstanding talent. What Hannah has in common with Lee from Prep is her angst and uncertainty and her feelings of being an outsider and uncomfortable in her own skin. I think Sittenfeld captures those emotions and that interior voice really well. She conveys with great honesty how painful and difficult the transition to adulthood can be.

It's not as fresh as Prep or as considered as American Wife, I'm guessing Sittenfeld is probably dissatisfied with it herself now she has reached maturity as a novelist, but it's still very good indeed: well-written and engaging. I would read anything by Curtis Sittenfeld and would definitely recommend her, though I suspect she is more appealing to women (mind you, that seems to be the case with most women writers!)If you haven't come across her, start with Prep and then American Wife. After that you may forgive her anything.
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on 5 January 2012
I have to admit I had low expectations for this book - I only picked it up because it was reduced to £1.99 and I needed something to read on the bus. The title/piccies on front cover and blurb on the back suggests that this will be a typical sweet coming of age novel, where the young heroine (who is insecure but 'beautiful without realising she is beautiful') ends up meeting Prince Charming and living happily ever after. I imagine that some young girls will finish this novel with a sense of depression and a feeling that they have been cheated out of a generic happy ending, cynical older women like myself are more likely to think 'Wow - I wish I'd known all that stuff when I was in my teens/twenties!. So much fiction aimed at women centres round the notion that the heroine will find true fulfilment through a man - and though this novel is far from being anti-male - it takes a serious realistic look at relationships between men and women blowing romantic preconceptions out of the water. Special credit to the author for the following
1. Not giving the spikey heroine a makeover into a clone of her sweet sister Alison but keeping her true to herself.
2. Creating male characters who are neither outright villains or the answers to a maiden's prayer. Even Oliver who sleeps around and Henry who messes with Hannah's mind are shown as fallible human beings, nor is Mike who is sweet and kind seen as the man she should inevitably end up with.
3. Creating so many situations which are utterly true to life, even if they are frustrating for Hannah - such as the part where Henry ends up back with her hot cousin Fig and her romantic expectations come to nothing. Honestly reading some romantic fiction you would think that every girl ends with the hunk of her dreams right from the start which in reality only happens to a lucky few!

The only quibble I have with this book - which is why I didn't give it 5 stars is that I wasn't totally happy with the sudden jumps from the present to the future - particularly between the childhood section to Hannah as a young adult. I'd have liked to have known more about her parent's divorce and the affect her controlling father had on her childhood - but that is a small quibble. I can't wait to read her other books now!
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on 16 September 2006
We are three thirty-something sisters from Scotland and we have all read the book in the last week! We were major fans of her first book (Prep) and couldn't wait to read the next one.

We found it extremely readable and well-written. The characters ring true - from the sensible big sister to the outrageously wild cousin - and the action is fast-paced. You may have slightly less sympathy this time round with our heroine - she is a rather self-absorbed preppie rich kid offered lots of opportunities (including various fit men) and doesn't always seize them. However her plight is always deeply sympathetic and we'll definitely be looking out for book number 3.
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on 12 January 2012
At one point in this book, Hannah's sister Allison says, "You give too much attention to things that make you unhappy." This resonated with me as one of the keys to Hannah's persona as we follow her through her life at college and afterwards as a teacher. Hannah is looking for the love of her life but she makes mistakes, one man is too perfect (like can I have his phone number?); another is a sex addict, and when she makes her final decision, it's too late.

This book is so sad in many ways, even though there are funny moments, happy moments, too, the overwhelming emotion produced here is sadness. Much of this is related to her father, who made everyone's life difficult, until his wife finally took the children and left him. Yet it feels right that the book ends on a flatter note than many another campus-cum-lovelife type novel. This is an instructive `not-living-happily-ever-after' novel. Curtis Sittenfeld's first book Prep, was a hugely successful campus novel and this one too spends quite a lot of time getting Hannah through college. Once out of college and afloat in the world Hannah remains reserved and unhappy, and it struck me that she had never made enough difference in anyone's life. She just floated along with the mainstream, letting things happen to her. Maybe in the end she is one of those people who can only live happily alone?
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on 28 July 2013
Very realistic portrayal of the effect of an emotionally abusive atmosphere on a girl growing up. I love Sittenfeld's style of writing, easy, neat but insightful and profound. If anything is wrong with this book, it's the title which makes it sound like a ditsy empty read. All in all, I highly recommend this book.
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on 18 May 2012
All 3 of Curtis Sittenfield books are brilliant - It was a pleasure to read Prep, The Perfect Wife and "The man of my dreams". I really look forward to her next book. I have being reading consistently since I was 6 yrs old and yet Curtis Sittenfield still makes it into my top 10 Writers!!!!
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