Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Devil Wears Prada - Lauren Weisberger

We've all been there - those first few jobs in the real world, before you've got a handle on how much shit you should realistically put up with from your boss before walking out, and when staying late for extra brownie points actually seems like a good idea. Weisburger does manage to capture the idealistic naïvete of Andrea, the young publishing assistant recently hired by demon fashion mag boss Miranda, but the rest of the story I found rather harder to swallow. Beyond the entertaining "my boss is such a bitch" anecdotes, this has the feel of some real-life work gripes hastily cobbled into some kind of plot, and rather too much of it rings false.

One of the advantages straight-fiction writers have over SF/fantasy ones is that they don't need to bother with worldbuilding - no need to spell out the inter-species conflicts or the uses of magic, because the story's set in the real world and we should presumably already know how that works. Unfortunately, this also means that it's much easier for us to notice any gaps in the internal logic, and there are plenty of those here. Some of this may just be a cultural thing - after all, it's entirely possible that there's no such thing as employment tribunals across the pond, and bosses may well be able to legitimately fire someone for not wearing high enough heels - but I suspect a lot more may be due to, er, "dramatic licence" and a stark lack of research, as seen in Miranda's potted history. Apparently she dropped out of her London "high school" at the age of 17, thus failing to "graduate". I mean, how hard is it to find out about A-Levels?

Yeah, it's the old classic, the Evil Brit, lazy shorthand for moustachio-twirling malevolence since time began. Miranda's "British" accent is brought up virtually every time she opens her mouth, including Our Dumb Heroine's frequent failure to understand it; maybe the boss was actually from Glasgow, or Wolverhampton, or Merthyr Tydfil. We also have the stereotypes of the Saintly Kind Boyfriend and the Handsome But Arrogant Suitor, who somehow manages to utter phrases like "Don't worry your pretty little head about it" without getting a smack in the face. Andrea's work colleagues are slightly less one-dimensional, but it seems clear that they're just sketches and composites of real people rather than characters in their own right, and Weisburger never gives us more than a superficial picture.

On the plus side, the work-related setpieces demonstrating Miranda's evilness are both very funny and toe-curlingly frustrating, though Andrea's reasons for sticking with such a hellish job seem somewhat contrived - really, is the New Yorker seriously likely to offer a writing job to some ex-dogsbody on a recommendation from a nasty fashionista whose influence clearly ends at the borders of her industry? However, it's always fun to read about evil bosses, and luckily the final contrivance that I was dreading (the bitch turning out to have a heart of gold) never came to pass. If you can grit your teeth and ignore all the nonsense that was shovelled in to make this a proper book, this is a glorious exposé of the fashion mag industry with its guts hanging out, and is worth reading for anyone who needs reminding that their own job could be a hell of a lot worse.



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