Can't love ya 'cos ya phone's too big

Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell, Abacus, pounds 7.99

Sometimes the dedication is all you need. When you read Candace Bushnall's tribute to "Snippy, who once bit his teddy bear" on the flyleaf of Sex and the City you have the measure of the woman. Forget the ballsy title, forget the spiked heels waving skywards on the dust jacket. Bushnall, a columnist on the New York Observer may come on like a regular broad, but at heart she's a nice girl from Connecticut looking for Mr Right. You hope to God that the Snippy of the dedication is a bona-fide infant but something tells you that he's probably a 49-year-old marketing exec with a fractious inner child. "Why have such scores of lovely, gifted girls/Married impossible men?" asked Robert Graves, and Sex and the City provides an answer, of sorts, for our times. In Bushnell's Manhattan,the lovely gifted girls are in revolt. "New York," she reports, "has bred a particular type of single woman: smart, attractive, sucessful, and...never married." This should not be confused with the proto-feminist rejection of traditional roles. Bushnell's girl-gang is out there hunting, Blahnik- shod Bacchantes wilding the bars and boardrooms of the city, but their expectations and contemporary mating rituals, "as complicated and sophisticated as those in an Edith Wharton novel", have rendered them unmarriageable.

"What if," postulates Bushnall, "you're 40 and pretty and you're a television producer or have your own PR company, but you still live in a studio and sleep on a fold-out couch - the Nineties equivalent of Mary Tyler Moore? Except, unlike Mary Tyler Moore, you've gone to bed with all those guys. What happens to those women?"

Well, you get to drink and do drugs a lot, go to launches/sex clubs/topless bars (the ne plus ultra of chic slumming) and talk to handsome boys about troilism.. And if you're Candace Bushnall, you get to do it all on expenses.

Sex and the City is a loosely edited collection of her New York Observer column. The publishers say it "reads like a novel in serial format" but this is optimistic. Sketches of urban life coalesce into something like a narrative in the last third of the book, but although we are told, that the dramatis personae are "thinly fictionalised" versions of New York movers and shakers, characters largely remain two dimensional exemplars of the "Take my friend, Veronica" school of journalism.

All the same, there is a freak-show compulsiveness about Sex and The City. The men are pouty little pashas who make Sid the Sexist look like Cary Grant. "If you're not in the looks Olympics you can become a very interesting person" allows one charmer, while another outs his rival with the withering put-down, "Your phone's too big." It beggars belief that Bushnell's new breed of Uberfrauen would send these runts out for a sandwich, let alone negotiate them into marriage. There again, while we are constantly told how smart and funny these gals are there is scant evidence of it in their dialogue and Bushnell's epigrammatic style too often falls shy of the mark.

Maybe you have to be there. Maybe it is Bushnell's closely guarded sense of exclusiveness that makes you glad you're not. Fifteen years ago, when Cynthia Heimel, also a New York columnist, wrote Sex Tips for Girls, about the problems of finding a man in the metropolis, it became required reading for women from Hoboken to Huddersfield. Heimel drew you into a charmed circle of women who were sexy and witty and laughed at themselves. You wanted to be in her gang. With Sex and the City the reverse is true. When Candace and Carrie and their wispy, WASPy friends hove into view, you find yourself getting as slidey eyed as they are, anxiously scanning the page for someone more interesting. It is in the spirit of Heimel then, that the following advice is offered to Bushnell and her bunch of high- achieving neurotics: Girls, get over yourselves.

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