July 28th, 2013

devil muse

Book 135: Revenge Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

Book 135: Revenge Wears Prada: the Devil Returns.
Author: Lauren Weisberger, 2013.
Genre: Chick-Lit. Contemporary Romance.
Other Details: Audiobook. Unabridged (12 hours, 58 mins) Read by Megan Hilty

Eight years after saying goodbye to Runway, and escaping the clutches of Miranda Priestly, it seems as though Andrea 'Andy' Sachs has the perfect life. The lowly assistant is herself now tabloid fodder. She edits The Plunge, the hottest bridal magazine on newsstands, and works side-by-side with Emily, her old Runway colleague and new BFF.

Andy is madly in love with Max, a dashing scion of a storied media company, and planning to tie the knot. But Andy is still haunted by her days at Runway, and the spectre of Miranda Priestly. Andy can hardly know that all her efforts to build a bright new life will lead her directly to the one she fled — and into the path of Miranda.
- synopsis from Revenge Wear Prada UK website.

I had so enjoyed Weisberger's 'The Devil Wears Prada' when I recently read it. Hardly great literature but it was funny with a sharp satirical edge that took no prisoners. However, it's highly anticipated sequel was a damp squib in comparison.

Still it was readable (or in this case proved a good in-car audio choice) but there was really nothing to distinguish it from hundreds of others in the chick-lit sub genre about 30-something women seeking to 'have it all' and meeting various obstacles along life's highway. I had glanced at a few Goodreads reviews before starting it and so my expectations were not that high.

I was curious to find out what happened to Andy, Emily and others from 'Devil' but didn't need to read 400 pages for that. There was a lot of padding and while Miranda Priestly loomed large in Andy's memory; her role here was more of a cameo. I expect in the decade since Weisberger penned 'Devil' she's lost that initial anger that had fuelled that novel following her experiences at Vogue. There was an opportunity here to satirize the celebrity worship that dominates Western culture but it wasn't taken up. I felt she tip-toed as not to offend anyone. Maybe that is what having a successful novel and an even more successful movie adaptation ultimately leads to.

Book #37: The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders

The country of Inner Horner is so small that only one person can stand inside at one time; it happens to have seven residents, six of all who have to sit in a sort of holding pen while someone else is within the country. Unexpectedly, the country’s boundary changes, shrinking it to a quarter of its original size, therefore anyone standing in it is straddling the border into the surrounding country, Outer Horner.

This absurd concept it the premise for George Saunders’ satirical novella, in which the eponymous “Phil”, from Outer Horner claims that the Inner Hornerians are attempting to invade, and proceeds to force the outsiders to pay taxes, which includes taking their clothes as payment.

The story just gets more and more surreal as it goes on, including Phil’s brain allegedly falling off his “brain rack”, and a “creator” who reaches down from the sky to dismember civilians, plus a bizarre section that covers a meeting between Phil and the President.

The pace of the story moves very fast, and it is a little difficult to understand at times, but I found it incredibly funny at times too, and it was the ridiculous concept that attracted me to read this in the first place.

This probably won’t be to all tastes, but anyone with a fondness for stuff that it completely off the wall should give this a go.

Next book: Joyland (Stephen King)

Book 136: The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

Book 136: The Birth of Venus.
Author: Sarah Dunant, 2003.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Renaissance Italy. Art. GLBT themes.
Other Details: Paperback. 422 pages.

Alessandra is not quite fifteen when her prosperous merchant father brings a young painter back with him from Holland to adorn the walls of the new family chapel. She is fascinated by his talents and envious of his abilities and opportunities to paint to the glory of God. Soon her love of art and her lively independence are luring her into closer involvement with all sorts of taboo areas of life. On excursions into the streets of night-time Florence she observes a terrible evil stalking the city and witnesses the rise of the fiery young priest, Savanarola, who has set out to rid the city of vice, richness, even art itself.

Alessandra must make crucial decisions about the shape of her adult life, as Florence itself must choose between the old ways of the luxury-loving Medicis and the asceticism of Savanorola. And through it all, there is the painter, whose love will change everything.
- synopsis from author's website.

I first read this novel in 2008 and gave it a favourable review (Book 35 2008). When it was selected for one of my library reading groups this month I had intended to just skim it to refresh my memory but after a few pages I realised that I was enjoying it and enough details had faded to warrant a proper re-read. I found I appreciated it more the second time around.

I'd been captivated by the recent TV series Da Vinci's Demons and while this novel is set a few years on from those events there are still echoes as Florence is a city in transition with the former liberal atmosphere threatened by the new austerity following the death of Lorenzo de'Medici. This is a theme also apparent in Dunant's Sacred Hearts as the Catholic Reformation begins to restrict the freedoms accorded to convents. In The Birth of Venus the relative freedoms of women under the de'Medicis are challenged by the tide of reform represented by Savanarola, who sees women as the source of all evil. Interestingly his dictates against homosexuality are also very severe. It appears that pleasure of all kinds offends him.

The novel was well received by the group though one member did cite they found the use of some modern language off-putting though this is often an issue with historical fiction. I wasn't as bothered by this as I was on my initial read and was more interested in how well Dunant had dealt with the political and religious complexities of the period.

Sarah Dunant's website includes details of her novels and some interesting videos.