Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Story of Sins and Fashion


“The Devil Wears Prada” by Lauren Weisberger


Amanda Sachs has just gotten her first job out of college, but it’s not just any job; it's THE job that "millions of girls would kill for." She's the new junior assistant to Miranda Priestly, editor-in-chief of the world-famous fashion magazine, "Runway." The only problem is that Miranda is the most evil boss on earth, who only seems to adore tormenting her assistants and making everyone's lives a living hell. Even so, what won't a girl suffer if one year in purgatory could open the door to a job with the magazine of her dreams – "The New Yorker," but at what cost?

From that plot summary, I'm sure you're going to think immediately "chick-lit" and while I personally despise that label, I'm afraid that this book fits into that category perfectly. Seriously, a book about a young woman's struggles with her nasty female boss who takes away her entire personal life in the name of fashion could hardly be something you'd see a macho male reading, now could it? So yes, it's 100% pure, unadulterated "chick-lit," and anyone not looking for some fluffy, light reading material may close this review right now – I doubt you'll be interested in reading on (unless you're curious about my criticisms of this novel).

For those who are still intrigued, let me first say this – first-time author Lauren Weisberger does seem to know what she's talking about here. Apparently, she had a job working for a similarly vicious female editor at "Vogue" magazine. As we all know, any good author should "write what they know" and a story with some basis in reality often rings quite true. So while many of the harrowing experiences our protagonist goes through seem exaggerated, one can imagine such a demandingly malevolent boss and some of the hoops she puts people through as being quite close to reality.

The problem with this book is that torture chamber is the meat-and-potatoes of this story – Amanda's tribulations of her year's trial-by-fire in journalism (despite it being for a fashion magazine), and how this affects her and her personal life. While this can be amusing to read about, there is a point about two-thirds through the book where you might feel the urge to slap Amanda and tell her to either stop whining or get the hell out. Unfortunately, it goes on further than this, and that is this book's first major mistake.

The next major blunder here is that we are more involved with Amanda's hardships, than we are with Amanda. Sure, we feel some sympathy for her due to her plight, but aside from her lack of knowledge of the fashion world and her wish to be a 'real writer' for "The New Yorker" at (it seems) any cost, we really know very little about Amanda, the woman. Sure, we meet her parents, her boyfriend, her best friend her sister and brother-in-law, and even the cute writer (male) who seems attracted to her – but these are all terribly superficial in this book. These all receive a very light treatment throughout the story, right up until the climax. Even after this, we never really seem to get into anyone's skin – not Amanda's and not anyone else's.

What's more, even the wicked "Cruella DeVille" type antagonist doesn't get your blood boiling and you never really learn to hate her appropriately, because you never really get to know her. Sure, Weisberger describes her quirks and habits, but the behind-the-scenes of Miranda as a person is missing. We therefore make assumptions and unfortunately, find ourselves not quite hating her as much as it seems we should.

I was equally disappointed with the climax of this book which I felt wasn't dramatic enough. Sure, there is some drama there, but it's mostly one-sided and missing the counter-point drama from the other side that would give it a "wow" quality. It also had a milquetoast ending that left lots of unanswered questions and far too little closure. This is a real drawback for a book where all along you're looking for the big "ah-HAH, Gotcha!" and all you get instead is a simple "um…, okay." Even the small twist in the end that Weisberger includes isn't nearly sharp enough to satisfy.

On the other hand, I could find nothing at all to fault Lauren Weisberger's writing style. It is light, clear and literate, mixed with quite a few good bits of humor that never seem to fall flat, but it's hardly anything artistic. This means you have a very easy and quick read that is quite an entertaining distraction. The bottom line here is that this is "chick-lit," easy and fun to read, nicely written, but ultimately flawed as literature. If you're a woman looking for something mindless to read, then I wouldn't hesitate recommending it – although you are better off borrowing it from a library or friend, than buying it. On the other hand, you're a man, or a woman who prefers well developed plots and characters, and more literary fiction, then I'd say avoid this like the plague. I'll give it three stars out of five, but I can't totally recommend it, so I won't. 

"The Devil Wears Prada" by Lauren Weisberger is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you. (This is a version of the review that originally appeared on the website Dooyoo under my username TheChocolateLady, and {the now defunct} Yahoo! Contributor Network.) 

PS: I don't think the film version of this novel fixed any of the major problems of this book, except for Streep being nasty enough.

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