One Fifth Avenue, By Candace Bushnell

They'll take Manhattan:the romance of real estate
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The Independent Culture

In the recent movie version of Sex and the City, audiences swooned in the aisles – not when Carrie got to walk down the aisle, but as she was shown around her soon-to-be marital home, a swanky apartment on the Upper East Side. In her latest novel, trend-savvy Candace Bushnell ditches romance and friendship for the realpolitik of real estate. Men, Manolos and mojitos have been replaced by bricks and mortar as the ultimate object of desire.

In Manhattan, there are few more enviable addresses than One Fifth Avenue – an Art Deco co-op just north of Washington Square Park. Every character in the book either lives there, or aspires to live there. So when the news leaks out that Mrs Houghton – an ancient philanthropist – has slipped on her roof terrace and died, the whole block "aches" to get their hands on her spectacular penthouse apartment.

Like many modern satires of New York high society, One Fifth Avenue describes a surprisingly antiquated world. Bushnell's cast might be sporting Brazilians and Blackberries, but their squabbles over old and new money are straight from the pages of Edith Wharton's fiction.

Chief among Bushnell's metropolitan elite are a hedge-fund king and his reluctant socialite wife; grande dame Enid Merle and her Pulitzer-prize winning nephew, Philip Oakland; Schiffer Diamond, a fortysomething movie star; Billy Litchfield, everybody's favourite walker; and strung-out Mindy Gooch and her discontend husband, assigned to a ground-floor apartment just off the lobby.

Recently returned from Hollywood, long-term resident Schiffer Diamond provides one of the more compelling subplots – and the one most likely to appeal to Sex and the City fans. Her on-off romance with the "schoolboy" Philip Oakland – conveniently located down the hall – lends the novel sexual tension and heart. Out to destroy the happiness of these battle-weary veterans is Texan parvenue Lola Fabrikant, a 22-year-old "tartlet" with her eyes firmly fixed on Oakland's square-footage.

Bushnell, who first found fame by chronicling the lives of choosy singletons, comes down surprisingly hard on Lola and her ilk – a new breed of cyber-savyy young women, who are prettily equipped with breast implants and with no time for love. As Lola tells Philip, the last thing she wants to be is like her mother's friends: "They're unhappy. Girls my age won't put up with unhappiness."

To describe One Fifth Avenue as a blockbuster would be to underplay this clued-up and trenchant satire. Bushnell not only gets the labels right, but tells us at what cost. Though for a novelist with her finger usually on the Zeitgeist, her tales of conspicuous consumption already have a distinctly historical ring.

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