The Parrots by Alexandra Shulman, book review

Vogue's editor-in-chief makes wealth and privilege deadly dull

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The Independent Culture

Set in the affluent private-security-patrolled environs of London's most exclusive boroughs, the characters of Vogue editor-in chief Alexandra Shulman's second novel are a stock cast of oligarchs, city types who've made huge fortunes, and poshos who've inherited.

At the heart of the novel are the Tennisons. Rick owns a prestigious London gallery inherited from his father, while his wife Katherine dabbles in calligraphy. Their son Josh is reading geography at a provincial university – his grandmother CeeCee, the family matriarch who presides over them all from her country pile, nurses disappointment it isn't Oxbridge, but Katherine dotes on him in a pathetically needy way that suggests she could do with more than the drawing up of the occasional family tree or garden design for some equally listless neighbour to occupy her.

This is a world where the men go out to work while their trophy wives stay at home; though not of course looking after the house or children, there are staff for that. The only one without a man to support her is Katherine's friend Flo, a "middle-aged woman with frizzy hair and an interest in domestic history", who nobody wants to shag, so let that be a warning to any blue-stocking feminists out there.

Enter Antonella and Matteo Fullardi, the children of one of Katherine's old schoolfriends and scions of an Italian fashion dynasty. We're clearly supposed to equate them with the exotic parrots that have recently found their way into the Tennisons' garden, but, despite their haute-couture-clad exteriors, the Fullardis have about as much allure as a couple of washed-out old T-shirts. Inexplicably, Katherine and Josh find them irresistible – there's clearly no accounting for taste.

The entanglements and infidelities that subsequently play out are tiresomely predictable, and I struggled to root for anyone in particular since they're all such one-dimensional caricatures that we have to be continually told about their supposed hidden depths: "She's extremely organised and self-contained, whereas I'm all over the place," says Flo of Katherine; "Sometimes people find her a bit cold, but she's not at all." Indeed, Shulman doesn't seem to have heard of the "show, don't tell" rule: – "it's like I have a new doll's house", says a Russian oligarch's wife decorating their stately home. I would love to describe The Parrots as a searing satire of London's elite, but unfortunately it's just a rather dull paint-by-numbers portrait of wealth and privilege.

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