University of life

<strong>A Girl’s Guide to Modern European Philosophy</strong>

Charlotte Greig <em>Serpent’s Tail,

Susannah Jones, the main character in Charlotte Greig’s 1970s-set debut, often wakes in the morning screaming with terror. There’s ostensibly no reason for her nightmares. A philosophy student at Sussex University, she’s enjoying her course and is in a long-standing, if rather chilly, relationship with Jason, an antiques dealer. A decade older than her, he has his own flat and goes on glamorous jaunts to London.

Despite this superficial appeal, the emotional distance between them becomes too much and Susannah embarks on an affair with Rob, a hippyish fellow philosophy student. Then she discovers that she is pregnant and is pitched into a moral quandary over whether to keep the baby. When the men in her life fail her, she turns to Nietzsche, Heidegger and Kierkegaard for guidance and support.

This is a solid, enjoyable debut. The prose is fluid and peppered with period-appropriate references to flared jeans and British Rail fruit cake. Though the narrative meanders, Greig succeeds in making you care about Susannah’s plight, elevating what would otherwise be a rather flimsy entrant into the campus novel genre to something a little more memorable and engaging.

This article first appeared in the 13 August 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Road fix