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This is the sort of book that I would probably never have read if I hadn't spotted it for £1.25 in a local charity shop. But I have always been curious about the origins of the TV series, and at that price it seemed foolish not to have a closer look.

The link between the two is recognisable, but nothing like as straightforward as I'd assumed. For a start, Carrie Bradshaw is not the narrative voice - although she is a journalist, and one of the most frequently-recurring characters. The fabulous foursome at the centre of the TV series is also absent. There are characters present in the book called Charlotte York, Miranda Hobbes and Samantha Jones, but their jobs, backgrounds and personalities don't match the HBO characters at all. Besides, they only crop up a couple of times each, and never together.

That means that one of the most comforting and alluring aspects of the TV series - the emphasis on supportive female friendships - is totally missing from the novel (or the newspaper columns which it collects). As in fact, are many of the other elements which give the show its veneer of glamour - the fabulous frocks, the cocktails, the shoes, the parties. Mahnolo Blahniks get mentioned all of about once in Bushnell's novel, and then only really to act as a symbol of empty consumerism.

In short, the novel is darker. The characters (both male and female) come and go without ever establishing any emotional connections with one another; the only thing they really care about is constantly outdoing one another; and the world in which they move is brutal and unforgiving. There are no happy endings here.

This rather took me by surprise, as I had been expecting brainless, fluffy chick-lit. I'd assumed that the TV series with its confident, liberated women and witty lines was cleverer and more highly-developed than the book, but that isn't really true. In many ways the book is much more hard-hitting, and much better at exposing modern illusions.

That doesn't mean there isn't a place for both of them. The TV series certainly still acknowledges the inequalities and insincerities of the world that Carrie and her friends inhabit - the difference is just that it is more optimistic about their ability to overcome these things and enjoy happy and fulfilled lives all the same. Meanwhile, the book is more honest about the darker side of modern life - but arguably paints too negative a picture when it suggests that none of the people caught up in it have any warmth or kindness or generosity about them whatsoever.

It's a question of what you prefer, really, as well as what is appropriate to each medium. Bushnell's dark vision of 1990s New York probably wouldn't have made a very popular TV series. But it definitely deserves a lot more credit than I had assumed as a strong piece of writing in its own right.

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( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 20th, 2009 06:52 pm (UTC)
How interesting! Thank you so much for this review. I have been wondering about the book and now I'll definitely check it out. :)
Dec. 20th, 2009 07:03 pm (UTC)
You're welcome! Apparently there's some sort of new novel in the pipeline now, which will be interesting to see. I should think it would be very hard to write without reflecting the massive impact which the TV series has had since the original novel - but I don't know whether the intention is to try to get over that, or just run with it.
Dec. 20th, 2009 07:24 pm (UTC)
I read it and liked it too. The series is so fluffy, almost as if that's the Disney version of the book.
Dec. 20th, 2009 08:30 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it's a fair point. I still really love the TV series, though - just on a different level.
Dec. 20th, 2009 08:41 pm (UTC)
I love Samantha :-)

I've also read 4 Blondes which is quite a slick dark read and also v funny in places. I'd lend you my copy but I don't think I got it anymore - I lent it to the lady who waxes my eyebrows.
Dec. 20th, 2009 09:24 pm (UTC)
I *really* liked this book because of how dark and nasty it was - it felt like it was covering the exact same situations and personalities as the show, but whereas the TV program made all the behaviour and events just seem like the standard thing for a glamourous life in New York, the book was quite clear about how fvcked up it all was.
Dec. 20th, 2009 10:08 pm (UTC)
I actually really liked the written style, too, which I don't seem to have mentioned in my review. The disjointed feel created by the newspaper column format went very nicely with the disjointed feel of the lives she was describing, and some of the dialogue was beautifully observed too.
Dec. 21st, 2009 12:37 am (UTC)
I remember reading this in much the same way you did: I saw it at a charity shop and figured the price was right for my curiosity. I think it eventually was returned to the charity shop too--I'm not sure where it is now anyway. Unlike you, I have never really watched the TV show, beyond the odd episode here and there, but I wanted to see what the source was like.

As far as I remember, it largely left me cold. Not because it was particularly poorly written, I just couldn't relate to it. I struggled with the news column style in particular, and the whole lifestyle it describes is one that I have always been uncomfortable with. I don't mean that I disagree with it, just that I've never been good at it, and I've always felt that I'm missing the point about how to have a good time. The book, sadly, did not reveal it to me.

That said, I did find it interesting for the sheer difference of its approach, and I'd probably recommend it to anybody as worth a look. It's always good to see a different kind of story dominated by female characters. Variety is the key to equality for me!
Dec. 21st, 2009 09:45 am (UTC)
I'm not surprised it left you cold given the perspective you describe. I think it is more aimed at people who are already into the competitive, yuppy lifestyle, trying to show them its downside, rather than intended to win over people who already find it an unpleasant prospect! I found the news column style slightly disorienting at first, but got the hang of it as the book went on, and especially as the relationship between Carrie and Mr. Big increasingly became a focus of the story which I could follow from one scenario to another.
Dec. 21st, 2009 08:35 am (UTC)
Interesting. I was given the book as a gift, read it once, and was slightly baffled by how different it was from the TV series, and never re-read it. But I should probably re-approach it as something completely independent from the show and just consider it on its own merits.

(On the other hand, the show itself isn't very much like the show for the first season, particularly the first few episodes. The opening sequence is the vignette about the British journalist who moves to New York, who is never seen again, and it takes quite a while for the irritating little vox-pop clips to go away and for the central four to be established as either main characters or as more than casual acquaintances.)
Dec. 21st, 2009 09:47 am (UTC)
No, yes - you're absolutely right about that first series. It is a lot more like the book, right down to the much more grungey colours and glamourless settings.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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