‘One Fifth Avenue’ by Candace Bushnell

Remember when chick-lit became a ‘thing’? You’d walk into a bookstore and the new release stand would be a sea of hot pink book covers featuring stylised handbags or stilettos. I read more than my fair share in those first, heady days of Jennifer Weiner, Marion Keyes and a million more. In fact, so similar were all the covers, titles and storylines that on more than one occasion I would be a few chapters into a book before I realised that I had in fact already read it.

Since my nineties chick-lit binge, I’ve become far more discerning about what chick-lit I read. I tend to stick to the authors that I know, who also happen to be the authors that have stuck around. Candace Bushnell is one of them.

When we all fell in love with Sex and the City, we also raced out and bought the book. The book is very, very different from the television series – I enjoyed it as a stand alone read and put SJP et al out of my mind. Bushnell joined my list of chick-lit authors to read.

One Fifth Avenue is a fun, frivolous story. It’s about the lives of the people in a single building in New York (of course). For the most part they’re not ordinary people  – hedge fund managers, an actress, authors, socialites and a gossip columnist. Inevitably, their lives become entangled.

The characters are all fairly self-absorbed, pretentious and not terribly likeable. That said, my favourite was Mindy – a bitter, social-climbing journo who is hanging on to her place at One Fifth Avenue through sheer stubbornness. Her apartment (shared with her husband, a hen-pecked author, and her teenage son) is basically a collection of odd little rooms that was once the building storage area. Mindy has penthouse dreams (and blames her husband for her lot in life).

The thing that sets good chick-lit apart from the rest (and obviously this applies to any good story) is not being able to predict what will happen by simply reading the blurb on the back cover. One Fifth Avenue has enough storylines that twist, turn and intertwine to keep you turning the pages. Bushnall’s signature writing style – brassy; witty but restrained; and full of charming NYC references is there in spadefuls and thoroughly enjoyable.

“She was rumored to be a concert pianist from a renowned family, but had the glossy appearance of an expensive prostitute. The relationship was a cliché, but twenty-five years in Hollywood had taught Schiffer that men never minded clichés, especially when the cliché concerned the penis.”

and this little gem on New York society –

“‘They considered me a little farm girl who didn’t know my place,’ she’d tell Billy on the long afternoons they used to spend together. ‘And they were right. I didn’t know my place. As long as one refuses to know one’s place, there’s no telling what one can do in the world.”

I’ll avoid the cliché and the Cosmopolitans. Instead, as a nod to Mindy and her NYC Jewish heritage, pair One Fifth Avenue with a potato knish. If you’ve never had a knish, seek one out – basically a bready, potato dumpling (can you fit any more carbs in one mouthful?!). I’m sure there’s a good reason why ‘knish’ rhymes with ‘delish’.

4/5 Yes, a high score for chick-lit but this is chick-lit done properly. Pack it for your next beach holiday.

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