Friday 8 October 2010

The Infinite Wisdom of Harriet Rose, Diana Janney

While reading The Infinite Wisdom of Harriet Rose, I realised that I have two different versions of my teenage years in my memory. The first set of memories are those of my everyday experiences: trying to get through school, keep my friends and shake off the attention of the bullies. The second is the world in my head: my daydreams and stories, of romance and popularity and stardom. In Harriet Rose I found myself taken back to that second, kinder world, with the understanding of an adult who sees beneath the glittering surface.

For her fourteenth birthday, Harriet's mother and grandmother self-publish her book of musings, or "Philosophical Meditations" and thanks to their efforts as her publicity team, she becomes a sensation and is voted as the Face of London. But along with admiration, Harriet finds misunderstanding and hostility from those around her, and finds herself more of an outsider than ever.

For all her faults, I liked Harriet immediately. She is different from so many largely interchangeable teen protagonist archetypes: intelligent, confident to the point of arrogance, but good-hearted. She has been indulged by her mother and especially her grandmother - as evident by their birthday present of publishing her book! Yet for all her intellect, Harriet is also naive when it comes to people, and Janney skillfully puts two layers of understanding in her narration: Harriet's interpretation of events and people's meanings, with their real intentions clear underneath. This leads to several hilarious but rather cringy moments, as you wait for Harriet to realise when she's mistaken.

As the story progressed, I found myself getting a little impatient with Harriet. She was a little too confident, and I felt embarrassment on her behalf when she genuinely didn't realise she was being rude. Yet I found myself recognising aspects of myself at fourteen in her - and indeed myself at twenty four! I felt that maybe she wasn't as sure of herself as she would have us believe. Maybe she's even deluding herself, as Harriet Rose is narrated in the first person. I wondered whether she is after all insecure, as the narrative shows that she does not know how to relate to her classmates, teachers and boys. In asserting her superiority, Harriet comes across as arrogant and pretentious, her dialogue stilted and formal, and in setting herself above the "airheads" of her school, she inevitably sets herself apart and betrays her vulnerability.

1 comment:

  1. I love how you described having two worlds as a teenager. Still being one myself, I can relate. Great review, I just might check this one out :)


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