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Clever Girl
Tania Glyde

Clever Girl
Tania Glyde
London 1995

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Lads‘ writing: football, record collections, first snogs to blondie and befuddlement when faced with those perplexing things called girls – who do weird things like flick their hair mysteriously and secrete strange bodily fluids and always leave you for the jerk in the leather jacket, and never really understand that what a boy wants is a mixture of Mum, Madonna, and Keith from down the road. Yes it’s fun to read, yes, its all true, but it’s so limited, especially when you’re one of those strange secreting creatures.

Clever Girls by Tania Glyde redresses the balance. So Nick and Giles et al, you want to know what goes on in girls’ heads? Read this. You probably won’t like it, not much laddish, self-deprecating irony, zilch bonding with the other sex-goddesses out there wreaking havoc with the frail male ego, no girly conspiracies to get you all down to Ikea and then into Mothercare as quick as you an say `fancy a shag’, instead you get a heartbreakingly truthful exploration of what is really like to be dumped in a world where everyone knows the rules, when being told you’ll be killed if you tell the truth about the nasty men who fiddle with you, that any adolescent sexual encounter will probably result in your being labeled a slag or frigid. That being clever and going to a posh university is more likely to end up in a nervous breakdown than double firsts, that the fab media job will turn out to be as bewildering and empty as those early sexual fumbles.

Sarah Clevetoe is the eponymous clever girl, intellectually that is. She’s not clever enough to save herself from being abused as a child, or to learn those strange hair-flicking tactics that allow you to be the object of a boy’s desire without getting in trouble for it. She’s also not clever enough to know that girly violence will never be passed off as `high-spirited’ , that your sexuality doesn’t actually belong to you, but to whoever feels like toying with it, then tossing it around the playground or the office like used kleenex. But in the end she is clever enough to know that the only real escape is surrender, either to this unknowable world or to the imagination – her fantasies of revenge that form the surreal last quarter of the book, are as much a metaphor for the function of literature to reveal and empower as the classic physical-journey-equals-personal-search. Sounds bleak? Well it is. But it is also funny, acerbic, honest and has an assured narrative voice that speaks for many middle-class girls who are told they have it all, so shut up and get down to Jigsaw. Tania Glyde deserves to be read by all the lads and girly-lads. She’s frighteningly good.

Reviewed by Sara Rance


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