I’d had so many women recommend me to read 50 Shades: colleagues, cousins, family friends, neighbours, I thought there must be something in this. A friend explained this obsession as a peculiarly British thing, ‘It can only be one thing at a time for us Brits: one book, one film, one song. Then the next one comes along, and it’s just that and only that for the next few months.’ I do think there’s something to that theory, although I’d extend it to more than just Britain.
Normally I’m quite resistant to this sort of hype/obsession, as I normally think it can’t really be as good as everyone thinks – I didn’t see Avatar until it came on TV and then, from the comfort of my own sofa, thought yeah, that was good, not amazing, but good. Anyway, back to 50 Shades...so I read an article in GQ magazine, which included an extract, which had a disclaimer at the start: ‘This is not a pastiche, this is an actual extract of the book.’ Had it not included the disclaimer I would have thought they were mocking it.
I’m not one to yuck someone else’s yum, (different strokes for different folks and all that) and it has to be said, whatever E L James did, worked, so fair play to her. But after reading that extract, I knew, as certainly as I’ve ever known anything, there was no way I would enjoy reading the whole book. So I didn’t. After some research, I traced this genre of fiction right back to the mother ship: Jacqueline Suranne’s Valley of the Dolls, and a more recent addition, Shirley Conran’s Lace. And then I thought I should have bought that book at the airport all those weeks ago.
No matter, I tracked down copies of both books and settled in for a fantastic few weeks with them.
It follows the lives of four friends, Maxine, Pagan, Judy and Kate, starting as they meet at a Swiss finishing school, through jobs as magazine publishers, interior designers, PRs, periods of alcoholism, changes of husbands, lovers (and rest assured, there’s plenty of sex including a scene involving a goldfish). There is also another woman, Lili whose identity is unclear at the start, apart from an implied link with one of the other four women. Lili’s upbringing includes modelling, a depressingly realistic description of her being groomed and progressing to the pornographic film industry, and eventually more mainstream films.
I just couldn’t wait to read about each of the women’s next lover, job, challenge, or find out what this Lili had to do with them all. The easy style of writing really draws you through the story, to such an extent I found myself laying in cold bath water, skin wrinkled like a prune, on more than a few occasions.
The reason I stuck with this, and knew I could, was because behind the sex, jobs, lovers etc, the thing which held the book together was the strong friendships which bind the women together over the decades. And in my writing, that’s what interests me – long term friends sticking with each other.
Yes, they’re all ultimately successful in whatever their endeavour is, but it’s not just a simple ‘I thought about working in the publishing industry, and before I knew it I was the editor of Vogue, which was nice.’ No, it includes the ups and downs, knock backs and surprises we all encounter in real life.
In addition, these women become successful without the help of men, which is why it must have been so refreshing in 1982, and is still so relevant in 2013. Even now it’s so refreshing for a book’s message about a happy ending not to revolve around marriage, but about friends who’ll stick with you through whatever life throws up at you. And for me, that is what made this much more interesting and contemporary than just a ‘bonkbuster’ with an abundance of sex scenes and a rich hero.
Have any of you read Lace, I’d love to hear what you thought about it. Or have you read 50 Shades, and completely disagree with me?
Until next time