Kissing love goodbye

Lucasta Miller enjoys a sentimental education; Zoe Trope by Amanda Prantera, Bloomsbury, pounds 14.99

Those who have already met Amanda Prantera's heroine in Proto Zoe will have been looking forward to finding out how that engaging child would grow up. You don't have to read the earlier book, though, to be able to enjoy this next instalment of Zoe's sentimental education, in which she finds herself ready for love, but serially disappointed by what the male sex has to offer.

The novel is constructed as a series of bite-sized chunks, one chapter in turn for each of the men in Zoe's life, beginning with the prototype - her father - and ending with a tantalising glimpse of Mr Right. Narrated by Zoe herself, in a confiding, anecdotal voice, it opens with a flashback to childhood, which shows what a confusing notion of love the 10-year- old must have picked up from observing the bitter-sweet family romance played out between her father and grandmother.

Don't be deceived, though, by the apparent diagnosis of an Electra Complex into supposing that Prantera takes a psychoanalytical approach towards her heroine. Zoe wouldn't be able to charm us if she didn't have emotions we could identify with, but she is fundamentally a fantasy, not a patient on a couch with a complex inner life. In the same way, the upper- class world in which she moves has a fairytale patina to it (most characters live in grand country houses and don't have to work for a living); and the action of the novel appears to take place in a timeless, nostalgic bubble.

For someone so obviously attractive - she is as full of life as her name implies - Zoe seems to have pretty bad luck with men. The golden boy who gives her her first snog at a party turns unaccountably nasty; the dashing French aristocrat with the Byronic limp exudes an unpleasant odour; the nice Cambridge undergraduate with a sense of humour is hopelessly unfanciable; and one can only surmise that the Italian low-life must have appealed to her more masochistic instincts. One begins to sympathise with her father who, like Mr Ryder in Brideshead Revisited, enjoys baiting the young men she invites home by adopting perverse opinions. Yet one of Zoe's most appealing characteristics is her ability to walk away unscathed: she doesn't let it get her down when she discovers that her balding philosophy professor wasn't interested in her mind after all, and she can resist the lures of a wealthy Roman Don Giovanni.

At only 147 pages, and with big margins at that, this is a tiny book, but one which has been beautifully put together by someone who really knows her craft. Its wit and rather Mitfordish charm are highly seductive, and despite its undoubted whimsy it manages to avoid being sentimental. The prose is impeccable and there are just enough moments of poignancy - as when Zoe contemplates the early death of a best friend - to prevent it from being too sweet, though these shadows are never allowed to grow into anything really upsetting. This is classy light literature for the hedonistic reader - the novelistic equivalent of some sophisticated pudding crowned with spun sugar.

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent