Crikey, not another frog

ZOE TROPE by Amanda Prantera Bloomsbury pounds 14.99

THIS IS a novel which appears artless in its cunning imitation of girl-talk: intimate, gossipy, confessional, the chattiness leavened with self-deprecating humour. It reads like a personal memoir, an autobiography, but one crafted by a wily storyteller.

The eponymous heroine, Zoe, who made her first appearance in Amanda Prantera's earlier novel Proto Zoe, recounts her amorous adventures as she leaves England and fetches up in Italy. Her charming rake's progress is originally arranged as a sequence of chapters each dealing with a particular love object. The introduction displays the lunch-table histrionics and tantrums of Zoe's father and grandmother, and the girl's dawning awareness that "love" can include nagging and blackmail. Thus armed, Zoe proceeds on a series of misadventures, each one more or less comic and chastening, as she attempts to kiss frog after frog into princehood. We meet, in succession, Jeremy, Adrian, Aymar, Harry, and so on. Later episodes detail Zoe's deep affection for her friend Eliza, her passion for Rome, where she ends up living, and her recognition, right at the finale, of an intriguing stranger who indicates the possibility of a happy ending.

Zoe's encounters provide cameos of more or less inept and hopeless - and occasionally dire - young men, but mainly function as the portrait of Zoe herself, ducking and diving amongst the more bohemian tribes of the jeunesse doree, practising to become a femme fatale while doing the season, learning how to drink too much and throw up, wryly recognising her own snobbery while pretending to be an ugly duckling so that the reader will sympathise. Butlers glide to and fro in the background, debs lark about in country houses, and the whiff of nobs down on their luck is reminiscent of Dodie Smith's compelling teenage classic I Capture the Castle.

For readers who do not come from such a background of cultured classiness, the effect is weird. Do girls like this, with their mixture of naivete and self-confidence, really exist? The novel convinces us they do, exiting from the posh boarding schools throughout the land to charmed and charming existences. Zoe is as nice as they come.

It still feels innovative and refreshing to read about a young woman's amorous quest that is not translated simply into sexual encounters done in fashionably stark language, not reduced only to what two bodies do in bed. It's about what girls think of boys as they close and grapple with them in all sorts of situations. The sex, not graphically described, but rendered affectionately, wittily and truthfully (the orgasms not had, the failed erections) is mixed up, as in life, with encounters in lifts and at parties, forays into shops and restaurants, speeding on motorways, endless lounging about waiting for something to happen. The boredom of late adolescence co-exists with a frantic inner life. Through it all stalks Zoe's father, muttering, jealous, progressively excluded.

All along, it's Eliza, her best friend, whom Zoe most deeply loves. The chapter on this love is beautiful and moving, a series of sketches of moments of deepening closeness, as the two girls meet at language school in Oxford, and spend long, cheerful afternoons lying on Eliza's bed endlessly talking about men and thereby discovering each other. They trust each other, and egg each other on to further adventures. They make a wild and wonderful pair.

Another odd and invigorating chapter is on Rome, the secret lure and life of the city written by an insider who is both complicit and irritated. In the late Sixties, we gather, Rome was the only possible place for girls like these. Let's hope there's a sequel soon.

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power