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The devil wears Prada....and reads Alexandra


Alexandra Shulman

Alexandra Shulman

Alexandra Shulman

Shulman's first novel is upmarket chick lit, writes Rowena Walsh.

Anyone who's ever seen The Devil Wears Prada knows exactly what it takes to be a successful magazine editor. Meryl Streep terrified her hapless young assistant when she played the icy, imperious and ultra-groomed Miranda Priestly.

As the film was based on a memoir by Anna Wintour's former assistant, it was widely assumed that Priestly was a thinly veiled version of the legendary queen of US Vogue.

With her sharp bob and signature sunglasses, the impeccably clad Ms Wintour certainly seems to be the quintessential fashion editor.

Appearances can be deceptive, though. You don't necessarily have to dress to impress to be a fashion force. Alexandra Shulman may appear a lot less high maintenance with her characteristically loose hair and discreetly chic style. But the 54-year-old Londoner has been in charge of the successful British Vogue for the last two decades.

Now she's hoping to break into the lucrative chick-lit market with her debut novel Can We Still Be Friends about the lives and loves of three college graduates in 1980s London.

Shulman definitely has an impressive literary pedigree. Her father Milton was the theatre critic for England's Evening Standard newspaper, while her mother, Drusilla Beyfus, was a journalist who contributed to several publications including Vogue as well as writing a book on etiquette.

Shulman always wanted to write a novel, but life kept getting in the way until an agent approached her.

It took 18 months of early starts and weekend work to complete Can We Still Be Friends.

But her debut novel wasn't the tale she'd set out to write. In an admission that will gladden the hearts of many wannabe writers, Shulman admits that she had written 30,000 words of an earlier story which her agent then derided as rubbish.

That first attempt may have been rubbish, but the enjoyable Can We Still Be Friends and its story of three twentysomething pals certainly isn't, even if it is ultimately forgettable.

Party-loving journalist Salome is part of an unlikely trio with Annie, who is desperate to settle down, and Kendra, who wants to break free from her family ties.

When they leave university the three friends throw themselves headlong into the frenzy of London in the boom time.

None of them emerges unscathed, although it's hard to feel sympathy for anyone other than PR woman Annie who slowly realises just how much she appreciates her job.

Anyone who's expecting pages upon pages of label-dropping may be a bit disappointed, but Shulman, who has a good eye for telling details, captures the madness of a time when Slow Comfortable Screw cocktails were the pinnacle of sophistication.

There is some substance to Shulman's style though. Hidden underneath all the frivolities is an examination of female friendship and those days of budding feminism when women finally felt free to choose career over family.

Can We Still Be Friends is as suitably stylish a debut as expected from the Vogue editor.

Alexandra Shulman may be unlikely to replicate her magazine success in the books world, but she'll certainly make an impact.

Indo Review