5 Aug 2012

Laced With Romance and Clichés

A few weeks ago, I came across an interview with the author Shirley Conran in The Times. I had no idea who she was but the article heading "Shirley Conran: bonkbusters, mummy porn and housework" grabbed my attention. How could it not really? It turned out to be yet another article inspired by the ca-rayzay success of the 50 Shades enterprise which seems to be taking over the literary world (yes I just wrote 50 Shades and literary in the same sentence... never thought that would happen!). Conran's opinon on The Shades was pretty much the same as mine: 
“More like baby porn. You have to wait until page 200 for any sex at all. She doesn’t get her bottom spanked until page 400. The writing is jerky: it needed a good edit.”


Based more or less on this one quote, I decided that I had to read Conran's 1980s bestseller "Lace" expecting it to be a good deal more racy than The Shades. 


The plot is quite intricate and jumps in time as it tells the stories of five women. The famous and celebrated actress Lily has summoned four lifelong friends to meet her at the Pierre in New York - she wants to know which one of them is her mother. From this dramatic start, the reader is taken back to the 1950s, to a Swiss boarding school where the four friends meet. Maxine is the less-than-elegant French girl whose rich, Dior-worshipping aunt is paying for her tuition in the hope that she will transform from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan (which I can say without spoiling anything that she does). Pagan is from an eccentric English family, a part of the landed gentry and destined for a season in London once finishing school is smoothed the rough edges. Kate is from a nouveau riche family and her father is hoping that sending her to finishing school will catapult her into society. Judy is not going to school, at 15 the American girl is the youngest of the group but also the most mature, working in a skiing hotel to pay for French and German lessons in the hope that these tools will help her make it in the world of business. That year one of these girls fall pregnant and the novel charts the highs and lows of their life until the final pages where all is revealed. 


"Lace" is heavily embroidered with the stuff that tv-series such as "Dallas" and "Dollars" was made of: couture fashion, money, designer labels, dashing men and scandals. There is no end to the glamour in this story, it is all clothes, cash and celebrity for these women who all happen to be highly glamourous, elegant and good looking. Nausea much? 


However, despite this incessant vomit-inducing glamour, "Lace" has some advantages over The Shades. Not the sex, it is just as bloody boring and stylized, this is not in any way, shape or form steamy. However, it has an interesting take on men because apart from the odd gay designer, the men all have their faults, some more than others. Some are worthless barstards, some are normal men with the flaws that we all have. None of them are Edward Cullens or Christian Grey dreamboats and that was really refreshing. The main advantage is the degree to which independence is emphasized as the ultimate goal for women. The message is clear: a woman is responsible for herself, for her own happiness. She has to make her own money, have a career, row her own canoe.         


I'll be honest, I was hooked while reading this one. Once I had started it, I couldn't put it down, in exactly the same way as I have trouble putting down a bag of Doritos once I have opened it. But in just the same way as Doritos, this doesn't meant that that it's good for you and it doesn't mean that it's quality. "Lace" is the kind of book that you can read once in a while. Perfect for lazy afternoons in the beach in a foreign country where you don't know anyone who can catch you read what is ultimately quite trashy... 


Read It If: You sometimes (when no one is looking) buy trashy magazines to spy on the rich and famous. You know the lyrics to "Independent Women" by Destiny's Child and "Single Ladies" by Beyonce by heart. 

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