Has this PhD student bitten off more than she can chew?
Talent is the debut novel by Juliet Lapidos. Just published on 7th February with The Borough Press, it has been described as ‘a wickedly caustic tale of a student who stumbles on a literary treasure.’
I have my review to share with you all today of a book that, I must admit, I found quite difficult to pin down…
[ About the Book ]
Anna Brisker, a once promising student, has fallen behind. Her PhD on inspiration is overdue and instead she busies herself with power-eating strawberry pop tarts and watching as her doctoral peers fly off to take posts at prestigious universities.
Alone over the holidays, Anna strikes up an unexpected and life-changing friendship. But what can Helen Langley, a middle-aged antiquarian bookbinder, have in her possession that might unlock Anna’s thesis and her chronic inertia? And what laws will Anna break to get it?
Lean and compulsively readable, Talent is a literary romp that delights in its wicked lampooning of the academic world and asks how far we should go to meet our potential. And in Anna Brisker, we have the ultimate audacious heroine.
[ My Review ]
Anna Brisker is a frustrated mature student. Having spent many years in the college system, she is unable to cross the final line and get her PhD in English completed. Her tutor is not impressed by what she is currently submitting and he suggests she look deeper for inspiration, that she find a case study.
Anna has spent a number of years in the college environment, with a long term goal of achieving the position of professor emerita. But Anna has hit an academic wall.
Anna has been very lucky to have very little concern about finances, due to a family inheritance and once she has a sufficient supply of Pop Tarts in her cupboard, her needs are quite simple. But as time passes Anna sees her fellow PhD colleagues achieve positions in other universities while Anna still remains a student.
An accidental meeting with Helen Langley, a woman who specialises in the binding of books, changes the direction of Anna’a life. An unlikely friendship develops between the two women, each with an agenda of their own, yet each still willing to embrace this unusual pairing of minds.
Talent is a book divided into two sections, which are sporadically divided and spread throughout the book. We have Anna’s story, as she struggles to come to terms with her life and what it is that she truly hopes to achieve, and we have the random notes of a writer, Frederick Langley, the man that Anna hopes can salvage the remaining hopes for her career in academia.
I have to admit I struggled with Talent. It is a very unusual and quirky read, certainly a book that would not be for everyone. I am a college graduate, having spent five years in University College Cork, so I do have an understanding of the pressures of academic life. Anna Brisker has the luxury of money behind her, something that many students do not have. Anna is in a position to belittle her colleagues, the college, the environment because Anna can. She is in the unique position of having the choice. Anna has quite a cynical view of the third level system, which transcends through the pages of Talent, a critical look at academia in general.
The word talent is defined as having a natural ability or aptitude for a skill. In this book, Juliet Lapidos queries the talent of the author, the student and how far we are willing to go to fulfill this talent. It is a satirical look at the life of the academic and the writer.
Unfortunately Talent just wasn’t the right fit for me. It’s rare I review a book that has so little appeal for me. I didn’t connect with any of the characters. I certainly did not find it a ‘literary caper’ and, to be honest, I struggled to finish it. The writing style was not an issue for me, as it is clear that Juliet Lapidos is well able to write but it was the subject matter, the plot, that was, quite frankly, beyond me!!
I would like to thank Harper Collins Ireland for providing me with a review copy.
[ Bio ]
Juliet Lapidos is a senior editor at The Atlantic. Previously she worked at the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and Slate.
She received her B.A. in Comparative Literature from Yale University and her MPhil in English Literature from Cambridge University, which she attended on a Gates Scholarship.
Talent is her first novel.
Twitter ~ @julietlapidos