Sunday, 13 December 2009


She knew how to recognise the good girls and the diligent boys, the rebels and fuck-ups, the artsy kids who knew nothing about art and the ones who had art burning inside them.
38-year old Portia Nathan is an admissions officer for Princeton. Her life revolves around recruiting potential students and careful consideration of application folders. At home, at work, in transit she is surrounded by piles of orange folders containing the (sometimes heartbreaking) life stories of the brightest and best 17-year olds.

All is not well with Portia. She has a fractious relationship with her feminist activist mother, a stagnant relationship with her long-term partner and immerses herself in work to blank out events from her own teenage years at Dartmouth.

Fascinating though the admissions process is I was more interested in Portia's relationships. When her partner Mark invites the ghastly Oxbridge academic, Helen, to their dinner party Portia tries not to be irritated by her rudeness, her affected Virginia Woolf hairstyle and her expensive T-strap leather shoes. A lesser writer would have made Helen a caricature, but Jean Hanff Korelitz is much more subtle than that. Similarly, when Portia later learns that Helen is pregnant the truth begins to dawn on her the way all truths emerge:

She was thinking of something, or trying to think of something. Just beyond her grasp, her ken, flittering away.
Admission is amusing, perceptive and clever. You must read it.


verity said...

This sounds fascinating and really appeals to me *makes a note*

Steph said...

This sounds wonderful! As someone embroiled in the world of academia, I'm always seeking out books that provide a literary perspective on the topic, so I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for this one!

Frisbee said...

This sounds very good. I'll put it on my list.

Ravenous Reader said...

I loved this book :) It was one of my favorites of the year. In contrast to my experience with Kingsolver, I've never liked any of Korelitz' other work. Funny how that happens.

Connie said...

Yes, I MUST! Thanks for the review!

Anonymous said...

That sounds intriguing. Another one for my list!

Christine:) said...

Just ran across your blog- what a neat idea! I am always looking for good books to read (if only I had the time then...).

Vintage Reading said...

Verity and Frisbee, this book was one of the highlights of 2009 for me, I would certainly recommend it.

Steph, I love academic novels, too. Have you read Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld?

Ravenous Reader, I was wondering whether to order The White Rose by Korelitz. Have you read it?

Connie and makedoandread, I hope you find this novel as absorbing as I did.

Christine, hi, yes I've discovered some astounding books through blogs and reading forums.