“Which of you bitches is my mother?” Hands up if you know which novel made goldfish worldwide nervous. Hint: it featured boarding schoolgirls, a Middle Eastern prince, and an international porn star. Shirley Conran’s Lace? You haven’t read it? Why not? Probably because it’s kind of clunky nowadays; a relic of the late seventies/eighties when women’s fiction were these thick, glamorous door-stoppers brimming with sex and intrigue. But how it changed my life. Literally. Up until that moment, I hadn’t encountered the ‘bonkbuster’.
The lives of Kate, Pagan, Judy and Maxine transfixed me. They managed to claw themselves up from their upper class finishing schools to the lofty heights of the design, PR and journalism worlds. Yes, one of them was a bit of an alchie, but she managed to marry this ‘simply wonderful, darling man’ who set her up in swishy charity fund raising. Admittedly, the young supposed orphan Lili has a less than glam life, exploited by an unscrupulous photographer into the porn industry, but she too becomes a world-famous superstar known only by one name - Lili - long before Madonna made it popular. Oh, how many times have I read this book? Too many, way too many times. But it opened the door to ‘the others’.
Judith Krantz taught me all about Bill Blass, Spago (their cream cheese pizza is to die for), and how French women apparently eat nothing but a tartin and an oeuf for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For snaring oil tycoons with unexpected pregnancies, having sex on a raft on the ocean in front of a crowded beach with no-one seeing you, and finding out what happens when a starlet and an ageing producer have sex so hot his heart gives out, I thank the legendary Jackie Collins. My Form IV English teacher admonished that I must ‘improve the quality of my reading material’. Are you kidding? This was grade-A stuff.
Jetset locations, larger-than-life women who had closets bigger than their houses solely to accommodate all their skeletons, and men, ohthemen!, who wined and dined them. To this day, when I have a spare Sunday afternoon, I pick up something like The First Wives Club, and gobble the whole thing in one satisfying bite. Is it literature? Really, who the hell cares! There's a reason these books used to be passed around the classroom, certain pages well-thumbed.
Do you have a favourite? Which one?