Lessons in the fine art of revenge

Kate Figes enjoys an art-world satire that transcends Chick Lit clichés with wit and mischief
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The Independent Culture

"It's the single girls that get all the shit, and they go and write apologetic books saying they don't mean it, not really, they go to bed dreaming of the redemptive love of a good man." But Tania Kindersley's main female protagonist reverts to means of dealing with an aberrant man that are more reminiscent of Seventies feminism than of thirtysomething soppiness - revenge.

"It's the single girls that get all the shit, and they go and write apologetic books saying they don't mean it, not really, they go to bed dreaming of the redemptive love of a good man." But Tania Kindersley's main female protagonist reverts to means of dealing with an aberrant man that are more reminiscent of Seventies feminism than of thirtysomething soppiness - revenge.

When Fred leaves Iris after a nine-year relationship, without an explanation, Iris forgets to ask the all-important question: why? She loses her job in his art gallery and then finds that he has been sleeping with someone else for the past two years; she was the last person in the art world to find out.

Iris seems to spend most of her youth and the first 100 pages of this novel in such a state of astonishing ignorance that I wanted to slap her. She doesn't know who her father was (he could have been one of three men) and has never bothered to find out. When her mother abandons her at 15, packing her off to live with her aunt, she never sets out for an explanation to ease the appalling grief - even in hindsight. She sits crying in her flat for weeks after Fred leaves.

However, as the vitriol begins to rise and Iris finds the zest to fight back by devising an intricate art fraud on her former boyfriend, the novel really takes off. I could curl up contentedly on the sofa thinking, "Attagirl!" With a group of friends from equally chequered backgrounds, Iris forms an art factory and constructs an entire portfolio for a bogus artist to be fronted by their new American friend, William. The intention is to humiliate Fred at the opening. So much of modern art is that vacuous that fraud is easy.

Tania Kindersley is unquestionably at the more intelligent end of Chick Lit, but it is not her grasp of the psychology of relationships that makes Elvis Has Left the Building a good read. It is the literary asides on New York ("a floating contradiction"); pavement artists; the hierarchy of parties; London; the Mona Lisa's smile, and Kindersley's ability to dissect the art world, that really catch the eye. "This is trash art, disposable art: you look at it, you get the point, but it's not going to last a hundred years," William announces to critics and collectors at the opening of his exhibition.

But it's in Edgar Dime, an amusing and convincing artist of Kindersley's imagination, that true brilliance lies. Iris sets out to find one of his last portraits, a Venus Laughing. Through her search, and through her discovery of the complexities of other people's lives, she discovers a great deal more about herself and at last begins to achieve a likeable semblance of adult maturity.

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