Tuesday 25 October 2016

The comparisons between Bushnell and Jane Austen were never less deserved

Published 08/06/2015 | 02:30

Philosophising: Author Candace Bushnell
Philosophising: Author Candace Bushnell
Killing Monica Cover

Who would have thought it would be possible to create something worse than the Sex and the City movies? And yet, with her latest book, Killing Monica, Candace Bushnell, author of the original Sex and the City novel which started the whole obsession with single girls shagging and shopping in New York, has achieved just that.

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This time around, PJ Wallis - Pandemonium, or Pandy for short - author and creator of Monica: A Girl's Guide to Being A Girl, and its various sequels and spin off movies, is the forty-year-old singleton living a fabulous life in New York. There's the apartment, the wardrobe, the quaffing champagne, the gossiping with the girls poolside at her private members club. So far, so Sex and the City.

Pandy makes the mistake of falling in love, and that's where it all goes wrong. In Bushnell's world, love equals woman with promising career falling head over heels for devilishly handsome but seemingly bad boy type.

She instantly loses half her brain cells and indulges in happy ever after fantasies, before he inevitably lets her down, and breaks her spirit.

"Is it human nature or just female nature to keep hoping for love, beyond any evidence that such a thing is possible?' her heroine whinges at one stage. Love, to Bushnell, seems to inescapably involve a surrendering of one's independence. Not to mention a reversion to the infantile - those who found Carrie Bradshaw's attempts at flirtation annoyingly little-girlish will recognise the style here.

To make matters worse, this nonsense is dressed up as some sort of feminist manifesto, a defence of the right of women to be single, and to have a career. Really, is anyone still arguing against this right?

The plot, such as it is, is tangled and laborious. Pandy becomes best friends with SondraBeth Schnowzer, the actress who plays Monica. The two fall out, inevitably over men, those bastards. We suffer through Pandy's various, and increasingly ludicrous travails - feckless husband, dastardly film execs, money worries, decaying family estate, near death, virtual kidnap, and identity loss.

By the end, it's hard to care. As the novel draws to a conclusion, things have descended from bafflingly bad writing from one so celebrated, to annoyingly idiotic, 'throw the book across the room' in frustration at yet another laboured plot twist.

On top of all this, Bushnell attempts a patina of self-help style philosophising that, really, she just isn't up to as a writer. When people start warbling on about their journey, you know you are in trouble. This cliché is trotted out towards the end, although throughout the book Pandy is fond of indulging in banal psychobabble.

From the outset, Pandy is brash, narcissistic, spoilt, naive and unlikeable. You presume this is intentional and that her 'journey' will involve some sort of personal growth whereby she becomes more likeable.

This never really happens and so you never really care what happens to her.

In the New York of Candace Bushnell, fame, greed, desire, consumption and strident individualism trump everything.

At the very least, you expect a caustic glimpse into a world, most of us will never inhabit, from a Bushnell novel. An insight into the new ways of wealth post crash, not a rehashing of the sort of ostentatiousness that now seems old hat, if not hopelessly dated. Instead this is just a lame rom-com romp with little in the way of social satire. Never were the oft made comparisons to Jane Austen less deserved.

Killing Monica

Candace Bushnell

Little Brown, €22.50

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