Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Overnight Socialite
by Bridie Clark

Every once in a while I will pick up something that’s not fantasy as something of a palate cleanser.  When I picked up this book, I was looking for a light, quick read that I could do in the day and a half I had before Penguicon during which I had a ton of other stuff to do.  Mission accomplished.

The first lines of the inside dust cover on this book tell you exactly what it is: a retelling of George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, the better known version of which is the musical show/movie My Fair Lady.  The plot is very straight forward: take Lucy Jo Ellis, a prospective fashion designer from Minnesota, and plunk her down in NYC where she doesn’t meet with much initial success.  Have her run into, on a rainy night, one Wyatt Hayes IV and his friend Tripp Peters, both of whom are rather drunk Upper East Side blue bloods.  Wyatt makes a bet with Tripp that he could take just about anyone off the street (i.e., Miss Ellis) and convince everyone in high society that she’s a card carrying old money socialite in three months.  Wyatt and Lucy push and pull at each other until Lucy succeeds at becoming a popular socialite and launches her design business.

This book does not deliver any real surprises.  The ending line up of couples is slightly different than in the other two versions, but that’s to be expected since while the roles these characters are filling are the same in each telling, their individual characteristics are not.  Not a lot of time is paid to the theme that no matter where we’re born, poor or rich, there isn’t anything inherent in our social position that makes one person better than the other.  It’s there, but it could have been developed a bit more deeply for my taste.  I think it would have added a bit more heft to this very light book.  I also think that it would have been interesting to pay more attention to the American idea of New Money vs. Old Money.  The first two settings of this story are in Victorian London, where there is old, aristocratic money, and then there are the merchant and trade classes who have their own secondary society.  Eliza Doolittle and Professor Higgins are concerned only with the aristocratic society.  American society has always been more fluid than that, with new families climbing up the social ladder all the time.  This is mentioned in the book, but the contrast between the New Money characters and the Old Money characters is not as strong as it could be.  For me, this would have completed the American flavor of this book, and helped explain why the things Wyatt was teaching Lucy marked her has old money and not new money.

Overall, I did enjoy the book, and I enjoyed the characters.  It’s a very fast paced book, which in turn made it a quick read.  It brings to mind whipped cream: light and frothy, but not substantial or terribly filling.  But then, I picked it up looking for whipped cream and not a full course meal.


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