(Click here for information on the 2016 edition of Molly’s Imaginary Summer Book Club Featuring Classics of Women’s Literature. As all of the four selected titles have filmed adaptations, we will be looking at the movie versions as we go along. This month, the July selection, Shirley Conran’s Lace.)
You may have noticed that this review is about two and a half weeks late. The reason is because that is how much longer than anticipated it took me to slog through Conran’s epic bestseller, a scandalous potboiler blown up to Clavellian (Michner-like? Ferberesque?) proportions, taking in Swiss boarding schools, secret teenage pregnancies, blackmail, S&M, purloined finacés, Arab sheiks, alcoholism, late-life lesbianism, a fashion heist, more blackmail, the Soviet occupation of Hungary, an illegal abortion, marital rape, the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, cocaine, frigidity, swinging London, science-fiction cancer research, porno-chic, dead parents, a daring escape involving acrobatics from behind the Iron Curtain, near-incest, actual incest, decapitation, and a cross-dressing husband.
And the amazing part is that Conran manages to make all of this so deadly boring.
It all starts out promisingly enough, as four high-powered women, the richest, the most famous, the top of their respective professions, are summoned to the Pierre hotel at the behest of international superstar Lili, an actress and sex symbol who is treated as the second coming of Greta Garbo (and comes off more like Blue Lagoon-era Brooke Shields), who delivers the immortal line to assembled group:
“All right,” she said, “which one of you bitches is my mother?”
Publicist Judy Jordan, champagne vintner and countess Maxine de Chazalle, war correspondent Kate Ryan, and socialite Pagan (real name: Jennifer) Trelawney then flash back to their Swiss boarding school days (and most of the rest of the last half of the 20th century, after a fashion).
The early chapters have a good eye for the details of the mega-rich, both aristocratic and nouveau riche (Pagan and Kate), continental (Maxine), plus American middle-class (Judy, who is part of a hospitality student exchange program for a nearby tearoom).
The book stalls out when it starts focusing on the teenagers introductions to love and sex with various young men. That the presumptive fathers are so dull is forgivable (this is, after all, a genre stuffed full of Lyon Burkes and Dexter Keyes), but the unpardonable offense is that the female characters become just as boring, and frankly I couldn’t keep track of which was Kate and which was Judy half the time.
After a break in the narrative, a year has passed and the girls, on the eve of graduation, speak in hushed tones about the incident, before setting off to the four corners of the globe, just in time to meet the Sexual Revolution head on.
And despite its salacious reputation, the sex scenes are weirdly prim (the exception being one that is illustrative of the Depraved Arts Of The Mysterious East, which involves a goldfish, which I could have lived my entire life without reading).
While the four friends find professional success and heartbreak, the story also picks up with the Child Who Would Be Lili, as she rises from refugee orphan to pin-up model to porno star to method actress and international superstar, having relations along the way with thinly-veiled versions of Terry Richardson’s father and Aristotle Onassis, plus her 15 year old maybe-brother.
Uhhhhhhhgh. After 600 pages does anybody even care about which of these bitches is her mother?
Sorry, Constant Reader, after all that I couldn’t bring myself to obtain and watch the 4-hour miniseries, despite the fact that the synopsis seems to indicate that it’s an improvement on the source material, with a more cohesive plot, and reducing the number of potential mothers down to a more manageable three.
Stray Thoughts and Observations:
As if possessed, her hands slipped down the back of his jeans, slid under the rough, tough fabric and over his silken, hard buttocks.
I promise that next week we will return to our regular schedule and content.