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A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy
by Charlotte Greig

Published: 2009-05-12
Paperback : 275 pages
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Susannah's official boyfriend, Jason, is the perfect foil for her student lifestyle. He is ten years older, an antiques dealer, and owns a stylish apartment that prevents her from having to live in the seedy digs on campus. This way, she can take her philosophy major very seriously and ...
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Introduction

(Susannah's official boyfriend, Jason, is the perfect foil for her student lifestyle. He is ten years older, an antiques dealer, and owns a stylish apartment that prevents her from having to live in the seedy digs on campus. This way, she can take her philosophy major very seriously and dabble in the social and sexual freedom of 1970s university life. But circumstances become more complicated than Susannah would like when she begins to have an affair with her tutorial partner, Rob. Soon she is dating two men, missing her lectures, exploring independence and feminism with her girlfriends, and finding herself in a particularly impossible dilemma: she becomes pregnant. Forced to look beyond her friends and lovers for support, she finds help and inspiration from the lessons of Kierkegaard and other European philosophers.

A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy
is a delightfully insightful, bittersweet coming-of-age romp, in which love is far from platonic and the mind?body predicament a pressing reality. It even succeeds where many introductions to philosophy have failed, by effortlessly bringing to life the central tenets of the most important European philosophers of modern times.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.

Excerpt

I hadn’t understood much of what I’d read in Being and Time, but I had the feeling that what Heidegger was on about was pretty mind-blowing, and could change the way I thought about everything. As far as I could fathom, he was saying that up to now, Western philosophers had put forward the incredibly stupid idea that human beings are essentially minds trapped inside bodies, somehow peering out at the world as though through a plate-glass window and wondering what’s really out there, if anything. But the reality is that we human beings find ourselves in the world, are “thrown” into it, as he put it, and have to sink or swim as best we can. We have to do things, make things, to survive: find food, shelter, and so on. We do all this without thinking: we only need to think, in fact, when some problem arises. It’s like driving: you just do it automatically, and it’s only when you notice you’re about to crash that you have to start paying attention. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. The book begins as Susannah wakes up screaming. At this point, we have no idea why. What do we find out about her inner life as the book progresses?

2. What role do dreams play in the book? Reference the recurring image on pages 64-65 of being “in a white car traveling along a black road.”

3. On page 16, Susannah devises a way to walk all the way through a student pub without “feeling like an idiot.” She seems self-conscious and insecure. Does she become more confident as the story continues? If so, why?

4. How do Jason and Rob fulfill different needs for Susannah?

5. Compare the university environment in which Susannah studies with the company she keeps outside of school. Specifically, compare the party at Rob's house on page 26 with the scene in the London bar on page 47. Does social class play a role? Or is it age? Does Susannah seem comfortable in either setting?

6. On page 42, a tarot card reader on the train deals Susannah an illustrated card of a jester with the words The Fool written on the bottom. What does this suggest about Susannah and her peers?

7. Susannah doesn't divulge too much about her family. Discuss what you know about her father, her mother, and her hometown.

8. Do you think the death of Susannah's father subconsciously influences her decisions as regards her love life?

9. How does Susannah view the different settings of her life: the student housing on campus, Jason's flat in London, her mother's home in Swansea?

10. What do you make of Jason's reaction to her pregnancy? Do you think his rejection of her is forgivable? Compare this with Rob's reaction.

11. What roles do Susannah's friends Cassie and Fiona play in the book?

12. “Susannah turns to the great male philosophers for guidance, in the absence of help from her parents and teachers.” Is this statement true, do you think?

13. The part titles of the book mimic the curriculum for an introductory philosophy course. What do you think of this device?

14. Nietzsche is discussed in the first section, under “Short Loan,” implying that his philosophy is not very useful; Heidegger under “Reference” (more useful); and Kierkegaard under “Long Loan” (very useful). Do you agree?

15. What does Susannah learn from her discussion with Søren Kierkegaard?

16. Do you think Susannah makes the right decision in the end? Is there a right decision?

17. This novel takes place in 1974. Do you think attitudes have changed since this time?

18. The story is set in a seaside town in Britain. Do the characters behave differently than how they would in the U.S.?

19. Is philosophy useful for making life decisions? Would Susannah have done better to visit a student counselor?

20. Did you learn anything about philosophy from reading this novel?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Dear Reader,

When I read a novel, I want to be entertained, but I also want to be left with something to think about after I've finished it. That's what I've tried to provide in my new novel, A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy. My heroine, Susannah Jones, is a young philosophy student who is enjoying the social and sexual freedom of 1970s university life until an unplanned pregnancy lands her in an impossible dilemma. Forced to look beyond her friends and lovers for support, she turns to her philosophy books for advice, finding help and inspiration in the lessons of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and others. This is an affectionate coming-of-age story that I hope you'll find funny and moving, but it's also an introduction to the great thinkers of our time, and shows how philosophy can sometimes help us to make important moral choices in our lives.

All best wishes,

Charlotte

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "Interesting Premise but Not My Cup of Tea"by bbentz (see profile) 01/24/10

Our club won this book from BookMovement last year. While I was intrigued by the premise (a philosophy student leveraging her learnings to resolve her currently messed up life) I thought the book was... (read more)

 
  "Sparked great conversations"by Stowel (see profile) 01/20/10

While I can't say that I enjoyed "A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy," our book club had a great dialogue around philosophy and its applications to making life decisions - hence my recommending... (read more)

 
  "A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy"by csullivan (see profile) 01/13/10

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