Friday, 16 May 2003

Sylvia Brownrigg: Pages for You (2001)

Edition: Picador, 2002
Review number: 1159

It is a commonplace of student life to arrive at university and fall in love (something which is at least partly due to the new sense of freedom which comes from relative independence). In Brownrigg's novel, the main character Flannery Jansen is rather surprised to find that the passion she develops is for another woman, a graduate teacher of critical theory in the university. The courtship is the best part of the novel, a clumsy and embarrassed dance which will be familiar to anyone who has ever felt unsure of themselves socially. It is not really surprising that it turns out to be literature which finally brings Flannery and Anne together, when Flannery gives her a book of poetry with significant pages marked.

The course of the relationship between Anne and Flannery, from beginning to end, is (on the surface) the subject of the novel. The title, and some clues within the narrative (such as their ability to maintain a passionate relationship over several months without their friends' knowledge) suggest that something else might be going on: that the whole story is Flannery's fantasy about what might happen. The narrative is structured to give the impression that someone scribbled down a page or so in an exercise book each day; the chapters are mainly only a page or so long. (Leaving the rest of the side blank after each makes this really quite short novel seem a bit longer, but it is still quite a small paperback.)

Brownrigg only really hints at this ironic possibility, and it has little effect on the reader's enjoyment of Pages for You. This is based around the characterisation of Flannery, which is likely to evoke nostalgia in anyone who has been a student. The plot is simple, and the individual chapters (or pages) poetic in style, worth savouring slowly. Reading Pages for You is then an extremely enjoyable experience.

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