Private lives, public eye

After the cult TV series and the megabucks novel, it's time to watch out for the Enuff Monster
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The Independent Culture

HoneyMoon by Amy Jenkins (Flame, £10, 361pp)

I'm not going to start this by mentioning the money. I'm not. I'm not. Oh, all right, I am. Amy Jenkins, inventor of the TV series This Life, daughter of Peter Jenkins, step-daughter of Polly Toynbee, inheritor of a house in Chelsea, received a reported £600,000 for a two-book deal based on one chapter of this, her first novel. She wrote most of it in Crete: yoga in the mornings, laptop and sea-view in the afternoons. Hollywood snapped it up, and whether the book is any good or not doesn't matter: it's got the pedigree for hype and it's got the budget. It is Hot.

Do publishers really get £600,000 worth of free publicity in return for paying such a sum? These deals must work out financially, otherwise they wouldn't keep doing them. And, if it were not for the advance, a book of this type would not be getting a review of this size. We all know this. As a product, HoneyMoon is already a success. But as a novel? I know it won't make a tad of difference to the Process what reviewers say; though it might to the author.

HoneyMoon is a what publishers call a city-girl romance. Girl meets dream-boy, marries other boy, meets dream-boy again on first night of honeymoon. Lordy, what should she do? It's a good plot - Noël Coward liked it too, in Private Lives. There seems to be a bottomless market at the moment for witty, clever stories about girls finding husbands, social-life as fiction. If that's what you want, what you're in the mood for, stop right here: this is the one for you. If not, and you need, oh, some poetry, history, politics, wisdom, or some more genuine relationship than girl-and-groovy-girlfriend, or girl-and-is-it-Him?-boyfriend, move on.

Amy Jenkins does witty and clever a great deal better than most, which is not to be sniffed at. Her characters are excruciatingly glamorous. Honey, the first-person heroine, works for a Hollywood mogul. He wants her to come with him to the Hamptons for a meeting with a legendary film director at his legendary Long Island beach pad. Her response is "Fuck off". That's how glamorous they are. And how brittle, amusing, and postmodern. Post-post modern, post-post ironic. And they know it. And Honey's parents died in a plane crash, so you have to forgive her.

They ring for a helicopter. They have London, LA, New York and La Posada, the most beautiful hotel in Mexico. They say "like" a lot and even the English ones use American grammar. They are pretty much all WASP and pushing 30. None seems in the least bit interested in their work.

They have e-mail and sushi and they are very witty. In between giving great dialogue they have long dark moments of the soul in exquisite bathrooms. One goes out with a convicted murderer for about five minutes but no one expresses any interest in that because the speedy, solipsistic plot bears no digression, no wandering any further away than a swift joke.

All of which will be great for the film. The helicopter hijack, and the scene under the bed, and the way Honey gets locked out in pyjamas, and plays croquet wrapped in a sheet... very Meg Ryan, 10 years ago. You can almost hear the producers (Honey's employer, for example) getting excited about it. It will be a pure Hollywood film, shot through with the latest engaging whimsical Britishness.

That doesn't make it an especially good book. People search each other's faces for clues, for God's sake. For city-girl romance, Jilly Cooper and Elaine Dundy were doing it better 30 years ago. The very modern glamour of HoneyMoon makes it cooler, for sure, but it's a brittle, sad kind of cool. And I don't think the book is meant as a portrait of sadness.

There's a moment in every working-class-hero rock star's life when he realises that the fans who loved his gritty, realistic first great album are not going to love his second, about how tough it is dealing with accountants. Amy Jenkins might have reached this stage prematurely, her creativity a victim of success before she has even had success in this medium. I also wonder whether she really wants to write novels, or just to be successful. If she does want to write novels, well, she's young and clever and funny enough to get over her own good fortune. I hope she does.

It would be a shame if she were to be got by her own best invention - the Enuff Monster. As in thin enough, pretty enough, rich enough, glamorous enough, and how you never can be. She should know by now that she is, and that the real work has nothing to do with that.

The book, meanwhile, is too thin, too pretty, too rich and too glamorous; ie, a great success.