The Girls at 17 Swann Street Book Review
Today’s book review is going to be an odd one, because I’m very mixed on how to review it. I’m also going to try very hard not to bring my personal baggage into things…but then my personal baggage is probably what makes this blog’s reviews unique! (Or, when I’m daydreaming about how I’m doing something of worth, I like to think they are unique)
The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib is a novel about a woman with anorexia, and her stay in a treatment facility in St. Louis. Originally a French Parisian, Anna moves to the states with her husband for his work, and finds herself floundering. She used to be a dancer, and controlling her food/weight was always a concern. But now loneliness and depression has taken hold, and at 88 pounds, Anna moves into the house on Swann Street as a last ditch effort to get her life back.
This “story” is one I know a little too well, having fought with my own eating issues. But it had been a long time since I’d read a book centering around anyone with anorexia or an eating disorder in general. Back when I was fighting my own demons, I was obsessed with these stories, and devoured them…even going as far as writing every “Term Paper” in high school on the topic. I’m well versed in eating disorders. Anna’s background and personality ticked all the boxes one would expect. Lonely, and dealing with a life she no longer recognized, she controlled things the way she knew how…through diet and exercise. It’s something a lot of us do in one way or another. I could relate to her story, and the stories of the other women she encounters at the treatment center. I felt empathy for their plight. But I never felt truly connected to any of the characters, and I think a lot of that had to do with the writing style of the novel.
Structurally, this book threw me off from the get-go, and I’m normally not someone who struggles to follow books with unusual punctuation or time patterns. But this baby was all over the place, and it took me until over halfway through the book to get over my difficulties with it. At first I thought it might have been an egalley issue, and perhaps the finished product wouldn’t be the same way…and I try not to include issues like that in reviews because I know those problems will never be something a regular reader will have to deal with. But I’m fairly certain in this book’s case, it is just the author’s style. In the course of each chapter, there are flashbacks with no warning…they come out of the blue, and it always takes a few sentences in before you realize when they take place. Then there are the conversations, which have zero punctuation, so you’re left wondering if someone is speaking, and who exactly it is that’s talking. It really is…odd. And because of it, I couldn’t dredge up the feelings I should have for the subject matter.
I also believe that this treatment center is something fantastical that can’t exist in the insurance/medical world that I know of in the United States, and I even say that as someone who has only been a recipient of Military medical care as an adult. But from my scant knowledge of how money and treatment facilities work in the U.S., this is pure fantasy. Which is also fine, unless you’re striving for realism in a book involving subject matter that is very serious, and I believe this is. And please don’t get me started on the women at this facility being referred to as “Girls” throughout the book. In a medical setting, I don’t think it would happen.
There were too many irritants to allow me to fully become invested in the WOMEN residing at 17 Swann Street. Which is a shame because this book should’ve cut me to the core and left me feeling all sorts of emotions. Instead it left me feeling kinda meh. Not a horrible book in any way, and I seem to be in the minority regarding my thoughts. But Lord help me, if you can’t handle unconventional structure…do not pick this book up. And I say that as someone who mainly dishes out 4 and 5 star reviews constantly.
Huge thanks to Netgalley, the author, and the publisher for giving me a chance to read the novel. Y’all know I don’t enjoy writing reviews that are less than gushing!
OH, I believe I finally have my comments section working correctly! So give me a quick hello if you’d like. I can’t believe it took me this long to realize there was probably a reason why I never got any comments since I switched over to the new blog….