The Debutante Divorcée by Plum Sykes

Mills & Boon in shocking pink lipstick
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The Independent Culture

Whenever I'm around fashionistas I have the overwhelming desire to drag them to the nearest greasy spoon and ram carbohydrates down their elegant anorexic throats. The same feeling overwhelmed me while reading The Debutante Divorcée, the follow-up to Bergdorf Blondes, the hugely successful debut of "It" Brit turned New York socialite Plum Sykes.

Like Bergdorf Blondes, The Debutante Divorcée takes place in the fluffy fantasy world of chicer-than-thou New York A-listers, women with as much depth as the heel on a Jimmy Choo alligator pump.

Instead of husband-hunting, the theme is how to lose a husband with style, as newlywed narrator Sylvie Mortimer announces in her opening paragraph. It seems these days Manhattan's married girls put as much work into losing a husband as they did into finding one. It is an enticing come-on, implying that a smart, sardonic satire on the mores of divorce Manhattan-style is to follow. For lovers of Bergdorf Blondes, there is also a delicious hint that Sykes will deliver enough fashion porn to satiate the most depraved label junkie.

But does it deliver? No. Much is promised in Sylvie's New Best Friend, Lauren Blount, the debutante divorcée of the title, and on first appearances she is a welcome antidote to the insipid one-track heroines of chick lit. As cynical as she is whippet thin, Lauren is Dolce to Bridget Jones's Damart. But that promise is broken faster than an acrylic nail in a catfight, and instead of Dorothy Parker, we get Mills & Boon in Schiaparelli-pink lipstick. Sykes's writing hints at edge, but she fails to deliver enough acid to corrode the gloss.

The central problem is her choice of narrator, the vapid Sylvie. Her saccharine story, involving silly neurosis and insipid romance, dominates. Frankly, this reader couldn't give a damn if Sylvie's man was caught by one of the rapacious Husband Hunters we are told circle Park Lane newlyweds like sharks.

Lauren promises more bite, but though she "oozes rich-girl chic", her character lacks the dark corners that phrase implies. Instead we are expected to believe she has an improbable heart of gold that makes her irritating flakiness endearing. Even her chic-lit credentials become questionable. Maybe the word "chic" has different connotations in Manhattan, but her conspicuous consumption is less little-girl-lost and more tries-too-hard trashy.

There is plenty of potential for satire, but Sykes pulls back from sticking the Fabergé knife in, as if too in awe of the world about which she writes. Lauren's puddle-deep observations, such as that Sylvie's pallid complexion - caused by an errant husband - clashes with the walls of her Pucci-decorated hotel suite, fail to elicit anything more than vague bemusement from Sylvie.

It is a pity, because occasional laugh-out-loud set pieces, notably a scene in a Soho House screening room where the audience swap tranquilliser tips, imply there is more to Sykes than a fawning regard for her social set. But ultimately, she is too close to it to provide anything more interesting than a diversion as anorexic as the women who populate her pages and as forgettable as last season's must-have.

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