One Fifth Avenue, By Candace Bushnell
Reviewed by Raffaella Barker
In Manhattan, a good address is everything
Hooray – here's some fun, girls! Not a book club offering or a worthy tome for self improvement, but a dollop of unashamed indulgence. Out with the violet creams, and off with the shoes – no, not Manolo Blahniks, those lust objects from Sex and the City, for Candace Bushnell has moved on to Christian Louboutin for foot candy. It is time to settle into a lovely cushion for a slice of New York life as specific and tasty as a downtown deli's salt beef sandwich on rye.
One Fifth Avenue is everything that a sandwich should be: flavour-filled, instantly gratifying and spiked with piquancy. Candace Bushnell delivers us an autumn reading treat when she takes us inside an apartment block of New York's most prime real estate and shows us the lives lived within these walls.
As with Armistead Maupin's wonderful Tales of the City, the building provides the structure for the novel. Schiffer Diamond, Lola Fabrikant, Mindy Gooch, Annalisa Rice and Enid Merle are five women with excellent names whose lives intersect at this eminently desirable Manhattan address – though their high-end stories of sex, shopping and scheming are told with a mordant satirist's humour which owes more to Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities than Maupin's eccentric West Coast vibe.
This is a book for its time. Bushnell references Facebook, YouTube and the iPhone, giving the narrative a script-like quality which sometimes threatens the plot. In a book it is not necessary to be told everything; the imagination needs a chance too. But this is the 21st century and our focus is on the ever changing detail more than the big picture. Bushnell's grasp of her material is so assured that, while a clunking name check is irritating (“Apple wants to carry my book… they want to experiment with books and they've chosen mine as the first”), it is also impossible not to admire her for pulling it off. As for the plot, it's the meat and pickles of the sandwich – and it's all about money and love, greed, revenge, and a nice old-fashioned jewellery theft.
Bushnell is not afraid to endow her characters with great beauty, loose morals and shed loads of money, but in the end but she does not give them much heart. Annalisa Rice almost has it, in that she has a faintly visible social conscience, and Billy Lichfield, a Capote-esque figure with a serious pill habit, at least struggles with the greed-vs-good question. But having a soul does not count for much in Bushnell's Manhattan, where fame and fortune and a good address are everything.
Bushnell is always of her time, and reading this book is like watching the Red Sea close up with Moses safely across. It is a swan song for the age of avarice as it passes. Have a bite – it's delicious.