Charles Holdefer – Don’t Look at Me (2022)

As a reader, I understand that there are times that reality and fiction tend to blur. As someone who has never read for an English degree (or any degree with a basis in fiction) , I am assuming that this boundary gets crossed many times, especially when it comes to writing a dissertation. To a certain extent, Don’t Look at Me confirms those suspicions of mine.

Holly plays basketball at college level, that is until an injury leaves her unable to participate and she discovers the beauty of Emily Dickinson’s poetry , which she also relates to. This leads to her taking up a degree in English, with special focus on Dickinson.

While working in a library to pay off her loans, Holly discovers a long lost Dickinson poem and some correspondence with an Irish soldier. Naturally this leads to a tug of war between members of academia. At the same time Holly’s personal life is a bit stressful; she’s in a relationship but she wants to move to another country, she also a bit distant to her dad and stepmother, plus her brother’s sense of entitlement is putting her in awkward situations. The question is will Holly cope?

Literature is the focus of Don’t Look at Me, mainly how it can mirror life. Holly, like Dickinson is also a recluse in order to work at her art. In Dickinson’s case it was her poetry, for Holly it’s reading for her degree. Also both had brothers who were favoured by their families and, without giving much away, by the end of Dickinson’s life and the novel itself, death is plays a major role in shaking things up.

The novel also functions as a jab at academia and the tricks which a professor may employ in order to gain recognition, this also ties though to a love of literature. That drive to make a discovery known has it’s roots in fame but also in that obsession which made a professor study on that particular topic the focus of their life in the first place.

Reading Don’t Look at Me was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Charles Holdefer’s writing is crystal clear and gently humorous. I loved each character: Holly, her brother Honus and the advantageous professors. Holdefer also is great at describing events both big and small, ranging from a visit to a coffee shop to a conference which takes place at the end of the book. The prose flows and deals with some topics, namely Holly’s backstory, in a refreshing way. It’s a strong novel which will not only appeal to basketball fans and English degree students but to anyone who likes first class storytelling.

Many thanks to Sagging Meniscus for providing a copy of Don’t Look at Me

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