This second novel by Joanne Rendell, Crossing Washington Square, was such an enjoyable and smart read. I flew through the book, and it truly reminded me of why I love contemporary women's fiction so much! It did this not just because I loved this book itself but also because of the interesting discussions about contemporary fiction that take place within the story.
The two main characters are each female literature professors, at the fictitious Manhattan U, who are on opposite ends of the literary spectrum. Rachel Grey is a young, animated professor still working towards tenure. Her recently published book explored the relationship between the work of Jane Austen and contemporary women's fiction. Diana Monroe, on the other hand, is more serious, already tenured, and studies the works of Sylvia Plath. She and Rachel immediately dislike each other and maintain a tense relationship. The tension is further heightened when a charming and attractive visiting professor from Harvard arrives and gives both Rachel and Diana flattering attention. Then, without realizing the other is going, Rachel and Diana each volunteer to chaperone a study abroad trip to London. While there they are confronted with a situation with one of their students in which they have to work together and end up learning a lot more about the other.
My thoughts on this book can be described perfectly by the quote by Nicole Kraus on the cover of the book: "A charming, witty, and cerebral novel." This novel was fun, engaging, and smart. Each of the characters, despite their differences, was easily relatable. They each experience some of their own struggles, but they were great examples of strong, confident women and left me feeling empowered as a woman as well. I love when, while reading, I feel like I am cheering on the characters. These are some of the wonderful things about women’s literature and are also discussed in the book; Rachel and Diana get into heated debates about the merits of popular women’s fiction and these are some of the arguments Rachel gives. These discussions also piqued my interest in the subject and reinforced my desire to take a class in literature.
For those who enjoy popular women’s fiction, Jane Austen, books about colleges or professors, or even just discussions about books in general, this novel is a gem. The plot was well paced and continuously moved forward, engaging the reader throughout. The setting is the same as in Rendell’s first novel, The Professor’s Wives’ Club, and a couple characters from that book are mentioned in passing, but this is a stand-alone novel.
I am very thankful to the author, Joanne Rendell, for sending me a copy of the book to review. This was after I had already planned on purchasing the book anyway (which I will still do to proffer my support) and did not affect my review. (Just to put that out there!) Joanne will also be here for an interview very soon so stay tuned for that! Oh, also check out her website and www.joannerendell.com. She has posted some posts on her blog about the issure regarding popular women's fiction not being respected as literature and has linked to other articles about this as well.
One more thing! Joanne has been kind enough to provide me with an extra autographed copy of her book (being released September 1, 2009) to give away to one lucky reader!!
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Giveaway will go through September 14, 2009