Friday, August 9, 2013

Book Review: Straight out of University by Rosen Trethiwick

Straight out of University is an ... interesting book. Interesting, frustrating, sexy and boring, by turns. It's a sort of memoir/coming of age/romance following the early adulthood of Sophie Sweet.

Sophie Sweet is a confirmed bisexual; the first chapter follows her, questioning and bicurious, into a gay event where she is nominated and crowned the Queen of Lesbians (well, an equivalent title) and outed to the entire university. She lets this happen because she is busy being utterly enthralled by a gorgeous and confident woman who sweeps her off her feet and into bed.

She has several years at university in Oxford, finally completing her PhD, and has a short string of memorable girlfriends, and lesbian sexy times, then heads back to Cornwall to see her parents, after her dad has a heart attack. She spends the second half of the book waiting to hear back on corrections for her PhD, and being stifled by the locals. And falling in love with a local Cornish man. Sorry, but this is definitely a bisexual book, so please don't go into it waiting for the lesbians to come back.

A lot of the story was very believable; I would be very unsurprised to learn that it draws heavily on the author's own experiences, which is fine, it gives it a good grounding, but it did have a memoir-ish feel. The most fantastical parts where the backwardness of the village people. I'm sure it's realistic in some places, still, but it felt almost like a parody.

The pacing and format make more sense looking back over it, but was quite disorientating at the time, especially when you aren't sure what the 'point' of the story is. It's divided into two halves; the faster paced, learning, sexy period of university, which skips through the years and relationships, and the slower romance and getting in touch with her roots (and culture shock) of the second half, when she returns to Cornwall. It was clearly the same person, responding to different situations, but the situations were so different that - well, it was a little confusing, to have the book suddenly change on you. I kept waiting for her to skip ahead, or fly back to Oxford, but instead, she started settling down.

The bisexuality aspect was actually handled really well. My main gripe is that half the book was about her romance with a man, and that's not because they didn't fit together, but because a) he was a man, I wanted lady loving, and b) the whole story was headed inexorably towards settling down comfortably together and he was a major factor in that. She wasn't torn between men and women, just between very different people. She was quite clear throughout the book that she was bisexual, and that it wasn't something being with a man (or woman) was going to cure her of.

The conflict in her and John's relationship was well done; he was a staid, unadventurous, homebody type. She was the wild and outspoken, and opinionated, sexually liberated, woman of the world. But it worked out. Sex was a source of much of the conflict - there was quite a bit of sex in this book, and it stays true to the story (our characters never just step out while their bodies do a pornographic dance for the reader, but reflect their interactions and experience).

Once she did fall for John, her interest in women didn't go away - and two past girlfriends pop up to make life difficult - but the marked lack of any young, eligible, attractive women in the small Cornish village meant that she never really had to deal with that. So it felt as if she was conforming, despite being a sexually liberated and educated woman the likes of which thoroughly shocked much of the village. I'm not sure how big the village was - we meet the clique, hear about the Estate, which implies more people, and there are enough to fill a hall and put on a pantomime. But we only hear of two single and eligible men, and Sophie herself is apparently the only single young woman, barring her divorced friend.

She's a very passionate, impulsive person who (thank you!) actually alienates people throughout the book, through misunderstandings and disagreements, and near-stalking. There's a creepy wannabe-Stepford Wives vibe in the village though, which almost automatically puts Sophie on the side of Right in any discussion. She frequently takes the opportunity to educate people and jump on her soapbox when faced with ignorance - fitting with her character, and consistent with her years leading the LGBtSoc at university. Sometimes it does come off a bit forced, and people who are quite comfortable in their sexuality may find it a bit obvious on occasion, but it is consistent characterisation, and a believable response to have.

So, in summary? A good book in some ways, not so much in others. It deals very well with issues of sexuality and acceptance, and real problems in relationships, and there really aren't many decent bisexual stories out there. The pacing and unpredictability were a bit unsettling, and I didn't always like the main character much (also, was waiting the whole time for her to go back to sexy lady times, but that's just because... well, wishful thinking. Entirely a personal bias).

Afterword: And checking the biography of the author, it looks like I was right. This is a fictionalised memoir.

"[Rosen Trethiwick] was born in Cornwall and grew up on Restronguet Creek. She studied Experimental Psychology at St Catherine's College, Oxford, before moving back to the West Country."

You can download Straight out of University as an eBook from Amazon 

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