The Receptionist by Janet Groth

Review: The Receptionist by Janet Groth

I love memoirs. There is something about dipping into time and space – rather than being fed chronologically – that makes me happy. Especially when they are written well, when they become almost fictional.

Groth is a beautiful writer, intelligent and telling without revealing.

“In 1957, when a young Midwestern woman landed a job at The New Yorker, she didn’t expect to stay long at the reception desk. But stay she did, and for twenty-one years she had the best seat in the house. In addition to taking messages, she ran interference for jealous wives checking on adulterous husbands, drank with famous writers at famous watering holes throughout bohemian Greenwich Village, and was seduced, two-timed, and proposed to by a few of the magazine’s eccentric luminaries. This memoir of a particular time and place is an enchanting tale of a woman in search of herself.” GoodReads.

I expected more gossip. I also expected to know more about the people she was talking about, my own failing, not hers. The lack of the former wasn’t detrimental, it was just as interesting following Groth’s adventures with various writers and intellectuals, and battles with tumultuous love affairs.

Not knowing the various people she mentioned – bar Muriel Spark – was a hindrance. I found my interest waning in parts and then pulled back in by the lyricism of her prose. The Muriel Spark section was my favourite, she became good friends with the author. Visiting her in Italy one Christmas. It gave me insight into the anxiety Spark had hidden, an anxiety that she traps within her writing. Think, The Pride of Miss Jean Brodie.

Groth’s love affairs broke my heart, she met a lot of toads before falling for her husband, a rather lovely man named Al. Both in work like and in love, it took Groth twenty years to find what she was looking for. It gives me hope, to know that progression isn’t something you get out of the way in your 20s.

The Receptionist is a beautifully written memoir, written by an incredibly intelligent woman. Save it for a day when you need inspiration and understanding, it won’t fail you.

Have you read The Receptionist? What is your favourite memoir?


6 thoughts on “Review: The Receptionist by Janet Groth

  1. FAVORITE memoir. That’s a difficult question, ack! I am at least very very VERY fond of Catherine Gildiner’s book Too Close to the Falls, which made me sad in parts and made me laugh until my stomach hurt in other parts. And Alexandra Fuller’s first one, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, is wonderful in another way. “Behind the scenes at X institution” are the types of memoirs I don’t read, exactly because of the name-recognition issue you had. I just don’t feel confident I’ll ever know any of the people being gossiped about.


    1. Yeah, I’ve learnt perhaps to avoid these sorts of memoirs now. Although, for a novel that focuses on her occupation, you don’t hear too much about it.

      I shall have to look up the memoirs you’ve listed, you’ve not let me down yet with a recommendation.


  2. Hi Alice
    I came over from Andrew’s blog.
    I haven’t read that many memoirs to have a favourite but I did enjoy the ones I’ve read.
    This is a lovely review, it reminds me of The Devil Wears Prada (the movie). It sounds like something I might enjoy.


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