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Book Review: ‘A Very Nice Girl,’ by Imogen Crimp

“I liked that I could do something that made other people scared,” she recalls of finding her voice. “I liked discovering that I — who teachers often had to ask to repeat my answer several times, my voice was so quiet — could fill a room with sound.”

There are plenty of stories these days about what it is to be a woman observed by the “male gaze.” It’s a phrase Anna and her friends would no doubt use, if the at-times heavy-handed dialogue about tampons as “capitalist,” or Latin as the “language of the patriarchy,” is any indication. (Anna’s roommate is writing a book she describes as a “feminist deconstruction of the relationship between men and women in the internet age.”)

But Anna is not only an object of that gaze; she actually starts to mold herself into it — beginning to see herself, interpret herself, value herself, through how she perceives Max perceiving her.

“Looking at myself naked in the mirror, I’d try to see it how he would,” she says.

“I felt he was studying me too closely, appraising my worth, like I was a piece of jewelry he was considering buying.”

“I craved his look, and when I was away from him, I missed it.”

In some of these moments, “A Very Nice Girl” is an all-too-real reminder of what it is to be a woman in your 20s, searching for who you are, trying on identities or stuck in a complicated pseudo-relationship even when you know you shouldn’t be. It’s a book about assessing your worth through other people’s eyes — parents, friends, a lover — and about being observed: by an overprotective mother, by men on the tube, by those who assess her auditions, by classmates competing for her slot, and ultimately by the audience. And yet, for the strength of Crimp’s writing, it might have benefited from a less predictable plot. Vulnerable young woman alone in a new city, seduced by an older, richer man who turns out to be kind of a jerk … readers may be disappointed to find there’s no real twist here — unless, of course, you count that Anna must lose the guy to get herself back.

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