BOOK REVIEW / How to win friends and never learn English: 'For Love Alone' - Ivana Trump: Century, 14.99 pounds

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The Independent Online
YOU CAN tell when Katrinka Graham, the unfortunate heroine of Ivana Trump's novel, is down on her luck. One minute she's weekending at Chequers, rubbing shoulder-pads with the Princess of Wales and throwing soirees for the most glamorous bods in the film world - Woody Allen, Robert De Niro, Martina Navratilova (Martina Navratilova?). The next she's stuck in a corner at Le Caprice with only Jeffrey Archer in the vicinity.

Many of us, faced with the same predicament, might grab back our Gucci clutch- purses and head straight for Ed's Easy Diner. But not Katrinka Graham. So relieved is she to be saved from social isolation, she tucks happily into her chicken and 'flashes him a grateful smile'.

For Love Alone (the first and last time the word 'alone' appears in this novel) is not so much about knowing the right people, as about knowing people. It may be a sex and shopping novel, but it contains precious little sex (too many unhappy marriages and domineering maternal instincts) and no shopping (hefty cheques are signed, but more in the cause of bricks and mortar than trips to Bloomingdales).

Labels are out, then, but names are in. The publishers inform us that Ivana Trump divides her time 'among New York, London, Palm Beach and the South of France'; the use of 'among' might seem like a grammatical error if you hadn't already twigged that what they really mean is that she spends her time among the rich, privileged inhabitants of New York, London etc. It certainly accords with the life-style of her heroine, whose idea of having a heart to heart with a good friend is to book a table for eight at Maxim's - a sort of heart to heart to heart to heart to heart to heart . . .

Not that one should draw too many parallels between Katrinka and Ivana. So Katrinka is born in Czechoslovakia. So she kicks off her career as a skier. So she defects to the West and marries a millionaire. So she has never quite mastered the English language. Coincidences, surely? No one could be so vain as to write an autobiography, thickly veiled or otherwise, and heap it with such an overpowering quantity of self-praise.

Katrinka is the toast of nations: as a child in Prague, not only is she a brilliant athlete, she also has a natural acting talent and an excellent academic record. As a young hotelier making it on her own, she reveals an outstanding head for business and an awesomely attractive body for play. As a married woman, she stuns spectators with her elegance and taste. As one of them muses: 'How lucky he had been to meet her . . . completely charmed as he was by her foreignness, her accent, the odd manner in which she occasionally strung a sentence together, the way she combined beauty with intelligence and courage, femininity and self-reliance and ambition.' Bah. Don't you just hate her?

Actually, you do, but for reasons - which might surprise Trump - other than envy. Katrinka's belief that 'your first responsibility is to yourself' is not exactly endearing; nor, as she slaloms her way to the top, is her manner of skiing roughshod over old friends. When she escapes across the Alps to democracy and freedom, she is freezing her coach's hopes of an Olympic medal; when she determines to discover the whereabouts of her lost child, she spares not a single thought for its adopted parents. The narrative is equally selfish: characters are picked up when necessity requires, and then left languishing for pages on end.

But one line in the eulogy above rings true - that reference to 'the odd manner in which she occasionally strung a sentence together'. The prose style is an arrestingly awful combination of curt cliche and the slightly pompous wordiness of a school report. Throats may be 'tight', voices 'gruff with emotion', gasps generally 'small' and feathers never anything but 'ruffled', but they are strung together by a barrage of excess clauses ('Always more a pragmatist than a dreamer, used to setting goals she had a good chance of achieving, Katrinka thought it useless to try and back up and somehow put her relationship with Franta on the right track . . .'). It is as if somebody had taken the scribblings of an over-romantic 13- year-old and turned them into a novel.