The Interestings caught my attention a while back; I added it to my Goodreads ‘To Read’ list in December of last year. It was one of those book club books that everyone was talking about for a while, but I didn’t actually do anything about reading it. Then, as luck would have it, Waterstones got in contact with me to see if I was interested in being a part of a Waterstones Blogger Book Club Tour, with this as the book in question. Talking about books is one of my favourite things to do, so I was more than happy to join in!
The Interestings is about a group of friends who meet at a summer camp called Spirit in the Woods. The six friends are Jules, a girl who wants to be an actress, and when she realises that her new friends finds her funny, harbours dreams of being a comic performer in the style of Lucille Ball. Ash is Jules’ tentmate; a girl who seemingly leads a charmed life and also wants to act. Her brother, Goodman, is a wannabe architect but whose privileged life has made him lazy and complacent. From the beginning, Ethan is the one whose talent as a animator is apparent, and Jonah is a quiet, thoughtful young man whose mother found fame as a folk singer. Lastly, there’s Cathy, the ballet dancer whose full figure won’t allow her to achieve her dreams.
The book starts off at the camp, introducing the reader to this group of youngsters who all have ambitions to make something special of their lives, and decide at the beginning that if nothing else, they will always be interesting. The title of the book is, I think, actually a misnomer. The story doesn’t feel as though it’s about whether or not these people remain interesting. It’s much more about how these characters’ creativity and dreams as teenagers translated into their adult lives, and how much nostalgia can play a part in your adult life. Jules’ life is consumed and very nearly ruined by her nostalgia for a past life, and by a jealousy that she feels over the way her life has turned out in comparison to her friends’. Ash and Ethan lead a charmed life, and Jules struggles, financially and personally, and she lets her feelings of envy and jealousy of her friends consume her, almost making a conscious decision not to let it go. Her husband suffers from depression, and I sympathised with his situation completely, knowing that he could not change the way he felt. Yet Jules can change the way she feels, she can make a decision not to move on, and yet she doesn’t.
For this reason, I actually found it quite difficult to like Jules at times. I wanted to shake her and remind her what a good life she had, despite all the problems. The problem for me was that she had a great deal of self-awareness; she knew how her obsessions were affecting her life, and yet she couldn’t do anything about them. I much preferred Ethan; a boy who used his talents to help him get through his parents’ divorce, and is the only one of the characters whose childhood creative endeavours translated into a career. I was also fond of Jonah, and felt a little short changed that I didn’t get to know more about him, or spend more time with him. Looking back, however, it’s apparent that this is Jonah’s character; he doesn’t let his best friends get too close, so we as the reader can’t expect to.
I loved the structure of the book – we jump from the camp to the characters’ middle age and then back again to fill in the gaps. This happens at various points throughout the story; we might not get all of the information straightaway, but Wolitzer always goes back to fill in any gaps. The writing is wonderful too; when I finished the book I realised that there wasn’t much in the way of a plot – there are some major events that happen, but in the end it’s just a panoramic look at these characters’ lives over the course of forty years, and I really, really loved it.
As part of the Waterstones Blogger Book Club Tour, I took part in a Google Hangout with Dane from Social Bookshelves and Penny from Lillies and Love. We talked for over an hour about the book, and it was great fun! If you’d like to take a look at the video, and see what we thought of the The Interestings, you can find the video here.
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
First published: April 2014
Copy provided free of charge by Waterstones