We’d been in a bit of a book-drought when we came across Meg Wolitzer’s latest novel The Interestings. After trawling through Amazon's hundreds of pages for some time, trying our best to filter out the tacky romance and fan-fiction, we opted for the ‘Editor’s Picks’.
With a ‘Best of the Month’ badge, not to mention rave reviews from the likes of the New York Times and comparisons to Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, it’s safe to say our expectations soared sky high when we clicked through.
Julie (Jules) Jacobson introduces us to ‘The Interestings’ in the first few pages of the novel; a small group of teenagers at an arts camp called ‘Spirit in the Woods’.
Immediately it is clear that Jules is an outsider, wanting to get in with what can only be described as an exclusive club of privileged 15-16 year olds whose parents are momentarily indulging their creative tendencies.
But we realise that this is just the starting point. From here, Wolitzer begins to take her readers on a journey through each character’s life, with seemingly effortless transitions between time and perspectives.
What would ordinarily feel overly ambitious, the various narration over decades doesn't ever get too much for the reader - Wolitzer actually makes us feel privileged to be getting this insider glimpse.
Not only this, but she actually explores, in depth, the fear that grips at most creatives – the nagging, back-of-the-mind doubt of ‘What if I never make it?’ What if we never ‘make it’, and someone else does?
The Interestings explores jealousy in a raw and captivating way, so much so, that the reader is wincing as bitterness takes hold of Jules, from whose perspective much of the story is told.
“Jealousy was essentially ‘I want what you have,” while envy was ‘I want what you have, but I also want to take it away so you can’t have it’.” The novel is full of moments like this, that uncover the sometimes ugliness of friendship and humanity, that we sadly all know is there, but would perhaps prefer to deny.
Wolitzer also constructs each relationship within the novel with realistic flair and honesty. Readers are privy to the bare-all nature of these intimacies and their heart-stopping moments – hospitalisations, child abuse, the starting of families, and the general sad reality of the complete unknowingness of life. Who knows where any of us will end up?
That night, in the new apartment, Jules slept poorly, thinking of Ash, and Betsy, and how everyone simply had to wait patiently in order to lose the people they loved one by one, all the while acting as if they weren’t waiting for that at all.”
The Interestings certainly echoes themes of mortality and our need to explain why our lives are the way they are. For most of the novel, the character Jules is quite unlikable – completely focused on how her life didn’t turn out how everyone else’s did, she is consumed by jealousy.
We don't like her mostly because she characterises what a lot of us fear for ourselves, if we don’t succeed as we intended… what will become of us?
Ultimately, The Interestings is about self-acceptance, and what becomes of the people who don’t achieve their dreams. Jules muses later, after her a moment of clarity:
You didn’t always need to be the dazzler, the firecracker, the one who cracked everyone up, or made everyone want to sleep with you, or be the one who wrote and starred in the play that got the standing ovation. You could cease to be obsessed with the idea of being interesting. Anyway, she knew, the definition could change it; it had changed, for her.”
Meg Wolitzer’s novel is one that stays with you long after you’re done reading it. The Interestings is one of those rare books that has something new on each page that hits your sore spots, that echoes your own questions and characterises your fears in people that you realise you don’t want to become.
A particularly good read for those who are creatively inclined, the novel addresses questions of talent and ambition and making it in industries that are often dismissed as ‘impossible’. With a cast that is bound to have a character for everyone to relate to, The Interestings is certainly one for every must-read list.
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