Lipstick Jungle, by Candace Bushnell

Sexless, and humourless, in a city of dreadful frights
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The Independent Culture

In every Candace Bushnell novel is a woman who acts as a warning. She is old, cynical and Botoxed to within an inch of her life. Our heroines look at her and say: "Shoot me if I ever get like that."

Lipstick Jungle is different. Our heroines are not like Carrie from Sex and the City, or Janey in Four Blondes. They are not just like us but with better shoes. In Lipstick Jungle, our ladies who lunch are Nico O'Neilly, a magazine executive, Wendy Healy, a film producer, and Victory Ford, a fashion designer. They work hard, but hardly play at all, and the only size that matters is that of their second home in the Hamptons. They are the women that other women want to shoot.

Lipstick Jungle has been hailed by some as a feminist treatise. Here are women playing a man's game, and winning. They have affairs and get away with it, screw men in the boardroom, not the bedroom, and buy their way out of sticky situations. But the problem is not that successful women are a frightening challenge to the social norm. The problem is that these women are horrible.

Gone are the quirks and surprises of Sex and the City. In this novel, people talk in clichés. They stride across million-dollar Oriental carpets thinking, "This is a perfect day for taking over the world." When Wendy is interrupted in an important meeting by her stay-at-home husband, it is hard to feel sympathetic. "Shane was sending a text message. 'I wnt d*vorce,' it said. It was such an obvious cry for attention that Wendy nearly laughed. Shane could never want a divorce. Where would he go? What would he eat?"

Very occasionally, the reader is reminded of the provocative wit of Bushnell's early novels. Nico's soliloquy about mutton-dressed-as-lamb sounds almost like Charlotte: "If you really considered it," she reflects, "Lamb got eaten, mutton did not."

But the clunky metaphors and cod philosophy of Lipstick Jungle are summarised in a sermon about success. "There were no rules [Nico realised]. What most women thought were 'the rules' were simply precepts to keep women in their place. The only real rules were about power: who had it, and who could exercise it." Later, Nico is shocked by a group of young women in too-short skirts, having the kind of fun that Bushnell's novels used to be about. "They would become like her," she thinks. "Everybody got older and shit happened to you. Bad shit. Shit you couldn't control." Shoot me if I ever get like that.

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