Paulina expected cheers when she walked in. “I have arrived,” she said loudly. “Straight from my bed.” She was instantly disappointed.
We meet Paulina, an art student, as she leaves the lover she is dissatisfied with in bed, fluffs her curly hair, lines her eyes and leaves in her nightdress for Angel’s party. On the way, she passes a woman she refers to as the Venus Flytrap:
One drunken night after Paulina jauntily linked arms with her, the girl had said coldly, “Just because we have friends in common doesn’t mean we must be friends.” It had been a stunning rejection, one Paulina wanted to try on someone else.
She’s not at the party long before someone announces a party at The Color Club and a group of them leave. There she sees Fran dancing and decides she’s beautiful: She wanted to be her, or be with her, or destroy her. The night ends with Paulina giving Tim a blowjob on the dance floor and – after his girlfriend drags him away and tells him off in the middle of the street – going back to hers and having sex in the basement room while her lover sleeps in the bed upstairs:
Her orgasm was like a shooting star one pretends to have seen after a friend enthusiastically points it out.
Twelve of the art students then go on a ten-day trip to Norway. Paulina is looking forward to spending more time with Tim – The laundry room was the only time they’d ever had sex, but this event had been christened and bedazzled in her memory until it bore little resemblance to what had taken place. – but Tim’s girlfriend has made him cancel and instead Paulina latches on to Fran and they bond over the fantasy of sleeping with a Viking.
Being with Paulina was like being under Soviet rule, she thought during a few outrageous moments, but it was worth it.
On their return, Paulina uses the tale of the Viking to break up with her lover, Julian, unaware that her fabricated tale will lead to a love-hate triangle between her, Fran and Julian that will last far beyond the bubble of art school, into the beginnings of adult life.
Paulina & Fran is a sharp tale of youth. Paulina behaves appallingly to friends and lovers, doing as she pleases and dismissing anyone who does not please her. But Glaser’s writing reveals the lonely, insecure young woman at the heart of it all.
The joy of this book is Glaser’s writing which fizzes and crackles. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and piercingly accurate as to what it feels like to be late-teens/early-twenties with no idea what to do or how to go about doing it. I enjoyed every moment whilst being grateful I’m long past that age.
Thanks to Granta for the review copy.