Wow this book was annoying. First, Janet was a pretentious, insufferable, snobby, know-it-all. I found it impossible to relate to her and hard to believe that she had any friends at all considering how she treated everyone. Every page had her saying something “acidly” or “sharply” or stating how annoyed or irritated she was over some tiny detail or other. I could have accepted this as part of her character arc except for the fact that Janet on the last page is the exact same as Janet on the first page of the novel. She underwent absolutely zero personal growth and didn’t change at all. Seriously, I hated Janet so much.
This book was supposedly written as part of the Fairy Tale Series, but I get the impression that Pamela Dean had her diary from college hanging around, changed the protagonists name to Janet, added in a couple fairy and ghost sightings, tacked on the ending from the ballad, and called it a day. The “romantic relationships,” if you want to call them that, between the roommates and the Classics guys were very detached and unbelievable. All they did was have quotation battles, make private jokes that the reader is never made privy to, and occasionally have sex, but there is absolutely no warmth, passion, or even companionship in any of the relationships. I don’t know why any of those girls put up with them for as long as they did.
There was no modernization, interpretation, or adaption of the ballad, no symbolism either. There was no subtlety in the references to the fairies or “Classics majors.” I found it quite jarring that the ending of the ballad was pretty much tacked on word-for-word at the end after 400 pages of in-depth breakdowns of college English courses and literary allusions and where Janet ate breakfast and what she ate. The ending felt very hurried and sloppily written. I didn’t buy that Janet and Thomas were suddenly soul-mates and ready for a baby and marriage unless 400 pages of alternately discussing their mutual dislike of Tina and bickering is meant to stand for their undying passion for one another. The ghost story and the mystery of Peg were completely abandoned. The subplot concerning the pregnant girls could have been interesting, but it was also lazily explained. Nick, who was a very important character for the first part of the book, completely disappears after Janet finally dumps him. The whole story felt like it needed a strong editor and a re-write to address all these issues. Clearly, plot and characterization came in a distant second to coming up with obscure literary references and yet another way to show what a dumb-ass Tina is. Oh, and also Dean needs to quit it with the semi-colon abuse.
Unforgivably pretentious, self-indulgent, and tedious.