The Strangely Surreal Adventures of Sylvia Smetana by Meira Eliot @meiraeliot #RBRT #womensfiction

Today’s second team review is from Noelle, she blogs at

#RBRT Review Team

Noelle has been reading The Strangely Surreal Adventures of Sylvia Smetana by Meira Eliot


I will freely confess it took me a while to finish this book. Life got in the way and I had to go back and reread a goodly portion of it, because the story jumps around.

It begins in medieval Prague, now the capitol of the Czech Republic, and a city I know well having lived there for more than a year. The author asks, “What is life?” and then describes a barber, bored with his profession, who leaves his wife and children to follow the perceived enchanted life of a traveling scholar and alchemist. He carries with him a green stone of moldovite, the only gem not of this earth, but from a meteorite. When he returns to Prague after many fruitless years, he finds his wife dead and his daughters working in a brothel and realizes he had squandered a good life.

This is the prospect facing the main character in this book, Sylvia Smetana, a likeable middle-aged teacher at Our Lady of Ransom’s private school for girls, where she teaches religious studies. She was more or less contented with her life until she traveled to Prague with her mother Svetlana, a Czech ex-pat who has lived in England since the 1950s. Svetlana gives her daughter a ring of moldovite, and from that time, Sylvia feels a psychic draw to Prague, to which she escapes as often as possible, and she begins to observe and question the lives of ambition populating the school.

The book is part scathingly funny description of the school’s hierarchy and the lengths to which the members of the administration will go to advance. The author has clearly had experience with the machinations of academia, and her sarcastic views tickled my funny bone, since I’m a long time academic.  She takes the concepts of head hunting, steering committees and thinking outside the box to new heights of ridiculousness, and I loved these parts of the book.

I also enjoyed the author’s colorful descriptions of Prague and the many sites I know so well. It was a trip down memory lane for me and her affection for the city comes through loud and clear. I, too, would love to return again and again.

One problem I had with the book was the changing points of view. The story jumped from Sylvia to her mother to the parent of a prospective student and to another faculty member who is having a nervous breakdown and back again. I found the transitions jarring and occasionally perplexing. There are also digressions to the history of John Dee, English mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occult philosopher, and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, and his links to Prague, specifically to Thaddeus Hajek. Hajek was the personal physician of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II and a Bohemian astronomer. I see these digressions as part of the Sylva’s growing desire to nurture her inner life, and the book concludes with wandering thoughts on love and trust, the finding of self, and the creation of our lives through experience.

I give this book four stars, largely based on its characters and humor, which makes it well worth reading.

Find a copy here from or


Today’s Team Review is from E.L Lindley she blogs at

Rosie's Book Review team 1

E.L has been reading The Strangely Surreal Adventures Of Sylvia Smetana by Meira Eliot


The Strangely Surreal Adventures of Sylvia Smetana by Meira Eliot is an unusual but engaging mixture of mysticism and reality. The novel begins with the profound question – “What is life?” – and Eliot spends the rest of her novel highlighting the importance of nurturing our inner lives rather than focusing on outward trappings such as ambition.

Eliot’s main character is the eponymous Sylvia Smetana, a likeable, middle-aged teacher, who has spent her life trying to please others. Her life begins to change however after a trip to Prague with her mother Sveltana, a Czech who relocated to England in the 1950s. Sveltana gives Sylvia a ring made from moldavite which seems to possess the power to make Sylvia more in tune with her own wants and desires.

Much of the story takes place in Our Lady of Ransom’s private girls’ school where Sylvia teaches religious studies. Eliot clearly has an eye for detail and her descriptions of school life provide the novel with much wry humour. For example, Sylvia is studying for a MA in Death Studies and reflects how death is preferable to teaching.

Eliot uses the setting of the school to illustrate the farcical nature of the modern workplace. However, anybody who has worked with the new ‘corporate’ style of management will recognise the toxic environment it creates. Eliot pokes fun at some of the ridiculous ideas such as “head-hunting”, “steering committees”, “inset training” and “thinking outside the box”, all of which made me chuckle heartily.

There is no denying that Eliot has a real flair for detail and a lot of research has gone into the telling of this story. However, in places, I felt that the narrator’s voice got in the way of the development of the characters. That said, Eliot brings Prague alive with her vibrant descriptions and likewise by the end of the novel the school felt like a familiar workplace.

I particularly liked the characters that Eliot has created and Sylvia is supported by a varied and believable cast. The poisonous head teacher, Barbara Styles, made me cringe and laugh in equal measure. Sylvia’s mother, on the other hand, provides the voice of wisdom and it’s no coincidence that hers is the only story told in first person, which lends her extra credibility.

I think The Strangely Surreal Adventures of Sylvia Smetana has something for everyone. It’s funny, serious, moving and entertaining so if you’re looking for something a bit different to read then I recommend you give this one a try.

Find a copy here from or