I picked up Cambridge by Susanna Kaysen for two very good reasons. First, given the title, I assumed that it would be a university tale set either at Cambridge University in England or in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was kind of wrong on both counts. And second, it is by Susanna Kaysen, who wrote the memoir Girl, Interrupted.
Cambridge is a novel about an early teen girl, dragged around the world when the one place she really would like to be is Cambridge, Mass. Her father’s career takes the family to Italy, Cambridge England (nothing like the real thing, she muses), Greece, you get the idea. In every location she feels dislocated, including when they return home to Cambridge. It is a coming of age novel about not fitting in.
Given that Cambridge is pitched as a novel, I was a little bit disappointed. It reads like a memoir through and through. It made me wonder how much novelization was really going on. Not much, I suspect.
The autobiographical nature of the novel aside, I kept thinking the main character was a boy not a girl. Maybe that was me subconsciously trying to make the novel less autobiographical. I don’t know. It certainly added to the feeling the protagonist did not fit in.
Who would like this book? Cambridge is for fans of the coming of age genre of literature. It is subsumed with that awkward, melancholy feeling that typifies those early teenage years. Clearly, I would also recommend it to fans of Girl, Interrupted. I do truly believe that this novel is about Kaysen.