Wednesday, February 4, 2009

How much chick could a chick lit...

Look at the cover on the right and tell me that this book ain't chick lit. I myself am having difficulty telling which category this book should belong to. I didn't buy this book because it's chick lit. (I have nothing against chick lit though, but after four Shopaholic novels by Sophie Kinsella, which became more and more unimaginative as the series progressed, I felt it was time to read more "serious" stuff.

I must admit that I wouldn't have bought this one if I hadn't come in early for an appointment and spent the time waiting in Bestsellers in Galleria. (Tip: The Galleria Bestsellers branch is a treasure. Go there.) The cover does get your attention, yes? It does strike me as glamorous. Just look at the details in the ballgowns (and what clean lines and fabulous silhouettes!). But we'll focus on fashion some other day, when I talk about Dana Thomas's Deluxe.

If you're an anglophile like me, you should get your hands on this book. And what better way to get into our mutual love of the English than to read a post-war novel about the British upper middle class. The story revolves around Penelope Wallace, who accidentally meets Charlotte Ferris in the bus. Turns out, Charlotte Ferris is your typical English 20-something aristocrat -- she's spoiled, has an allowance, gets invited to balls almost every night, and has an American boyfriend. Penelope and Charlotte eventually become close friends, with Charlotte introducing Penelope to the fabulous world of the cream of British society.

Nothing much in the way of a plot happens as you read through the book's 350 pages, but I found myself glued to the pages just to know how the upper class conduct themselves in different scenarios. The beauty of Eva Rice's writing is that she lets you in on all the dirt and sparkle in this magical era. Even the rituals of tea in the afternoons becomes significant, as this is often the time when the English make conservations that matter (and also when they trade secrets).

If not for the love angle between Penelope and Charlotte's cousin Harry, this book wouldn't count as chick lit at all. For one, the humor is sublime. It doesn't even employ a sub-plot involving a comedy of errors, much less a heroine that you root for even from the beginning despite her clumsiness and bad luck (e.g., Bridget Jones, Rebecca Bloomwood). With Rice's main character, Penelope Ferris, you get a person with grit. In the end, the book is all about her and not the snotty people that suround her.

Read this book if:
  1. You know what crinoline, tafetta, and organza are.
  2. You love all things British.
  3. You like them pretty things.