Saturday, 11 October 2014

Review: The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA gives a rich and hilarious new meaning to complaints about “The Boss from Hell.” Narrated in Andrea’s smart, refreshingly disarming voice, it traces a deep, dark, devilish view of life at the top only hinted at in gossip columns and over Cosmopolitans at the trendiest cocktail parties. From sending the latest, not-yet-in-stores Harry Potter to Miranda’s children in Paris by private jet, to locating an unnamed antique store where Miranda had at some point admired a vintage dresser, to serving lattes to Miranda at precisely the piping hot temperature she prefers, Andrea is sorely tested each and every day—and often late into the night with orders barked over the phone. She puts up with it all by keeping her eyes on the prize: a recommendation from Miranda that will get Andrea a top job at any magazine of her choosing. As things escalate from the merely unacceptable to the downright outrageous, however, Andrea begins to realize that the job a million girls would die for may just kill her. And even if she survives, she has to decide whether or not the job is worth the price of her soul.

I saw the movie before I read the book, and this is one of the few cases where the movie is better than the book. So if you’re thinking about reading this after seeing Anne Hathaway turn from slouchy to glamorous, I’d really save your time.

The movie worked to make the characters likeable, both Andy and Miranda, and for there to be progress, character development, and you know, an actual plot. The book really didn’t bother. Andy remained aloof, sarcastic and whiny throughout the book and it never really felt like she grew as a person, or developed at all over the course of the year. She maybe had slightly better dress sense by the end, but there was no development, she just whinged at everyone, pushed her friends and family away and didn’t really try to integrate or work particularly hard at Runway. Yes her job was demeaning at points and yes Miranda had unrealistic expectations, but Andy never even really tried. She went out of her way to try and be obnoxious and get one over on Miranda the entire time, only for it to backfire and cause her more work as a result. It was painful to read.

Similarly Miranda had a softer redeeming side that we saw in the movie, as opposed to being stone hearted, completely un-relatable and unreasonable throughout the book. The characters were downright unpleasant at points and there was nothing redeemable about them.

It was also incredibly repetitive. The same things, over and over again, with Andy making the same mistakes, the same obnoxious better than this attitude, which meant that nothing ever went right. This was supposed to convey the craziness of the working environment, but actually just backfired and made the book seem incredibly dragging and repetitive.

I was stressed the entire way through. I had to speed read this book, not because I was enjoying it but because it was so stressful to read that it was just easier to get it over with rather than sleep. It’s long, it’s not a particularly great book, and a constant adrenaline hit of stress does not make for great reading. You can’t sustain that level of tension for that length of time successfully with a reader, it just doesn’t work.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Review: A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke

Paul West arrives in Paris to start a new job - and finds out what the French are really like.
They do eat a lot of cheese, some of which smells like pigs' droppings. They don't wash their armpits with garlic soap. Going on strike really is the second national participation sport after petanque. And, yes, they do use suppositories.

In his first novel, Stephen Clarke gives a laugh-out-loud account of the pleasures and perils of being a Brit in France. A Year in the Merde tells you how to get served by the grumpiest Parisian waiter; how to make amour - not war; and how not to buy a house in the French countryside.

I’ve read a few other books by Stephen Clarke and really loved them; his writing is eloquent and frequently laugh out loud funny, and he tackles his subjects with both wit and an obvious deep love of the country and culture that he is writing about. It’s just a shame that he didn’t bring any of that to ‘A Year in the Merde.’
When I picked it up I didn’t realise it was a novel, so was expecting more of a travel memoir recounting a lot of the pitfalls of moving to France that people experience. What I got instead was a truly awful main character who is not only feeling displaced by his move to Paris, but is downright rude and obnoxious and makes no effort whatsoever to be anything other than disparaging and condescending throughout his stay.

Truly, other than a few more readable moments this was a disaster from start to finish. The humour was thin on the ground, and the book was instead populated with awful comments about the French culture and the people. Paul is a thoroughly unlikeable character who spends his time sulking, whinging, and taking women out for drinks and not understanding why some alcohol and half a hour of conversation don’t result in immediate sex.

It was demeaning and quite frankly disgusting in places and I’m not quite sure why I kept reading.
The drama was propelled by his caricature pantomime baddy of a boss who is doing all sorts of shady dealings and Paul just sits back and lets it all happen. There is no driving force, it is simply the ramblings of a man who couldn’t be arsed to do anything with his job in a new country.

It only vaguely tackled a few of the difficulties that people find when moving to France for the first time, and that wasn’t really enough to redeem it. It certainly doesn’t tackle the perils of being a Brit living in France. If you’re looking for an interesting insight into living in Paris, I recommend ‘Paris in Love’ by Eloisa James. I would also recommend some of Stephen Clarke’s other books, but steer as far away as possible from this pile of merde.