The Burning Girl, by Claire Messud

I told you, my gorgeous petals, that I wanted to get back into reading. So here we are.

Claire Messud’s writing is forever elegant. I was first introduced to her via a book club when I was just settling into Brisbane for a while. The host recommended The Emperor’s Children by then unknown-to-me Claire. This book club aficionado had a far more high culture literary taste than I did back then, and I baulked at the idea of having to read such a large book when it seemed so…meandering…contemplative. Domestic.

But I enjoyed it.

THEN I read the comparatively slim The Woman Upstairs and was thoroughly impressed.

The blurb for The Burning Girl is as follows:

Julia and Cassie have been friends since nursery school. They have shared everything, including their desire to escape the stifling limitations of their birthplace, the quiet town of Royston, Massachusetts. But as the two girls enter adolescence, their paths diverge and Cassie sets out on a journey that will put her life in danger and shatter her oldest friendship. The Burning Girl is a complex examination of the stories we tell ourselves about youth and friendship, and straddles, expertly, childhood’s imaginary worlds and painful adult reality―crafting a true, immediate portrait of female adolescence.
The Burning Girl starts out racing like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train (what’s with ‘Girl’ in the title of these novels?) but then takes an entirely more subtle, and DARE I SAY IT? more intelligent and introspective turn.

If the book has a flaw, it’s the constant foreshadowing of what is about to happen to Cassie by the book’s narrator, Julia. She shifts from being in the adolescent moment to looking back from the perspective of someone much older, but the foreshadowing of what is about to happen stretches from confusing to downright misleading.
The descriptions of Cassie as a character from Julia’s perspective, however, evokes a real fondness, and the distancing of their friendship licks at the edges of Messud’s writing in a way that makes the reader feel nostalgic about their own sometimes mysterious childhood happenings and interactions. It’s all too real, and that is part of Messud’s expertise at writing on this type of contemplative, domestic and decidedly female situation.

It’s not a perfect novel but I enjoyed this, and I highly recommend; if mostly for the glorious writing and the interesting take on adolescence and its secrets.

Have you read The Burning Girl, petals? Shall we form our own little book discussion?


The Rose

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