Scarlett Thomas – Oligarchy

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Scarlett Thomas – Oligarchy

When Natasha arrives from Russia at her new boarding school in rural England, she struggles to adapt. Not only the foreign language, but the special language all these year-11 girls from superrich families use. Yet, not only the words, but also the manners are quite unique and the one thing that they are obsessed with is how to lose weight. It is not just to get rid of some rests of baby fat or being in a better shape, the most important thing is being thinner than the others since the headmaster treats those girls differently. But then, their weight-loss competition goes totally wrong and one of the girls dies. Reaction of the school management: let’s not get any information outside and set up an anti-anorexia plan which only gives the girls even more ideas of what to do…

“Oligarchy” starts like some typical boarding school novel. 15-year-olds who do not have any serious worries, who try out the most absurd diets they can find, and modern-day obsession with pictures on the internet. Yet, it does not stop there, on the surface, of course, it is the world of adolescents we are presented with, teenagers who are reluctant to what their parents do and where the money comes from and who rebel against strict rules on their school. However, underneath, there are some much more fundamental questions addressed, first of all, how eating disorders are fired by what we are presented with every day. Secondly, the girls are rich, but most of them actually do not really have somebody to turn to, their parents are simply absent and even times of deepest distress does not seem to trigger any reaction from them.

Even though the novel is a bit stereotypical when it comes to the characters, I think the author did well in combining relevant topics in an enjoyable read. First and foremost, she has found the perfect tone with does neither ridicule the teenagers with their absurd ideas of how to diet and their supposedly secret cheating, nor does she take the serious consequences of their action too lightly. It is a novel that can educate, but fortunately, you do not feel like being educated.

Juliet Escoria – Juliet the Maniac

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Juliet Escoria – Juliet the Maniac

When Juliet finally comes to High School, she has high expectations. Since she is assigned to many honours classes, her talents sure will soon be seen by her teachers. However, instead of concentrating on her educational goals, Juliet is completely preoccupied with what others think of her, why she does not fit in and why she even lost the only friend she had in middle school. She struggles more and more and enters a spiral of drugs and self-harm until she, at last, cries for help and is brought to a hospital. With changing school, she hopes to find back to her old self, but the mental illness she has to recognize as a part of her personality, keeps her at the edge between life and death.

I have read several novels about teenagers developing mental illnesses and struggling to come back to something like a normal life. Thus, I was keen on reading Juliet Escoria’s novel which comes with high praise and was highly anticipated. Sadly, the protagonist didn’t really convince me and I hardly could relate with her and her fate.

The biggest problem for me was that throughout the novel I had the impression that the medicine to treat bipolar disorder or depression is somehow glorified and paralleled with “ordinary” drugs that are consumed by teenagers, such as alcohol, marihuana or any type of pills. Also the fact that having sex while being completely out of your mind was repeatedly portrayed as something you should go for left me a bit wondering. Since Juliet does not really seem to be willing to overcome her addictions or to find a way of living with her diagnosis and the side effects that come with it, I also did not find the novel helpful in any way.

Well, there were some entertaining parts in it, it was even funny at times. And surely it shows that absolutely anybody might end up with mental struggles and that you cannot really do something about it. The tone was adequate for a teenager, even though she often sounded a bit older than just the 14 she was at the beginning.