Such a Girl by Karen Siplin


 

Such a Girl
Karen Siplin

As a lover of Jane Austen retellings, I HAD to read this book when I heard that it was a retelling of Persuasion. Unfortunately I was disappointed in this one, and I think the big issue I had has to do with my personal aversion to angst in the books I read.
 
The Premise: Kendall Stark is a phone operator in a well-known New York City hotel. Nine years ago, she left the love of her life, Jack Sullivan, because her college friends didn’t think he was going anywhere. Now he’s a successful owner of a brewery who is visiting Kendall’s hotel, and Kendall is stuck in a lowly job and in an unfulfilling relationship with a married man.
 
My thoughts: When I began Such A Girl, expected it to be a light story based on the other modern-day Austen retellings I’ve read, but this story isn’t quite that. It begins with Kendall taking a smoke break and seeing her ex, Jack Sullivan crossing the street towards her. There is an awkward exchange as Kendall realizes that while Jack has done well for himself as the owner of a brewery, she’s still stuck where she is. In the hotel hierarchy, a job as a phone operator is low on the totem pole, and from Kendall’s descriptions of it, it’s a job with backstabbing co-workers, a micromanaging boss, and lots of angry guests screaming in your ear.
 
Kendall’s life of listening in on the hotel guests, hating her job, and her relationship with a man who was married was a big downer. Instead of amusing anecdotes from working at the hotel there is nothing but negative stories about the place.  I hoped that the tone would change as the story progressed, especially when Jack reenters her life, but this was not so. Instead Jack stays at Kendall’s hotel and begins to pay visits to her friend’s dinner parties, as a way of showing off his success. As a result there are arguments between the two (usually when Jack puts his foot in his mouth), that are really uncomfortable to read. Kendall seemed to divide people into those who are like her — living paycheck to paycheck but not looking to do more, and people who do have money, like the guests in her hotel. Jack did not help. I found Jack’s behavior passive aggressive, and Kendall’s reaction defensive. After these fights (which were frankly not sexy at all), I could believe that these two dated nine years ago, but that there was anything still there was harder to buy. Either way, neither Jack nor Kendall acted particularly likable and I had a hard time buying any chemistry between their characters.
 
At this point I figured out that: this is a really loose retelling of Persuasion. The only thing it takes from it is the story of two lovers who are separated and reunite years later, but all the side plots and side characters from that story are not here. Instead of the Elliot family, Kendall has her friends, Amy, Nick, and Gary, who didn’t think Jack’s antisocial and unambitious personality was right for Kendall, who was a sunny girl with goals in college (something she is not now). The rest of it isn’t there. Instead it’s replaced by numerous stories of hotel guests treating employees badly and conflicts with management, or Kendall and Jack’s repetitive fights that go no where.
 
Outside of Kendall’s life at the hotel and dealing with Jack’s return, are her home and love lives, and neither are tranquil. Her home is an apartment she and Gary rent, but a disruptive neighbor moves into the apartment upstairs making Kendall’s life even more miserable. I think I was supposed to side with Kendall, but frankly, I thought she was just as much in the wrong as her neighbor. Their conflicts just made me feel secondary rage. And as for her romantic relationships, Kendall has a casual relationship with Sage, a married man that she doesn’t love. Basically there was no where in Kendall’s life where she wasn’t unhappy or doing something self-destructive.  Things ultimately work out for her at the end of this story, but the ride was not easy.
 
Overall: This is a very readable story but at the same time it is very real.  I think it is best not to approach Such a Girl expecting a light-hearted retelling of Persuasion, because that’s not what this is. I really wanted to like this one because of the promise of a retelling, but every facet of Kendall’s life felt dreary to me.  I couldn’t connect to it.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
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5 thoughts on “Such a Girl by Karen Siplin

  1. I sometimes get peeved when they say something is a “retelling” and it really doesn’t feel like one so much as a nod to. It kind of seems that’s what happened here. Are you looking forward to For Darkness Shows the Stars? I’m interested to see how similar it will be to Persuasion since it’s ‘inspired by’ it.

    • I think it’s not really that it’s not so much how much of a retelling it is, and more about my taste. This is for people looking for something more serious than I am.

      I’m really looking forward to FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS! 🙂

  2. Pingback: Impromptu Austen Week Wrap-up | Janicu's Book Blog

  3. Glad I was able to read your review. The premise of this one looks interesting but based on your feedback, I don’t think I’ll be reading it. I have a feeling I will just get frustrated with the characters.

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