Monday, September 11, 2006

Five books about fashion

On Slate's behalf, Troy Patterson attended Diane von Furstenberg's Sunday-night fashion show. There he ran into Salman Rushdie. When Patterson "asked [Rushdie] if he could think of any novels that were especially sharp about the fashion business, Rushdie said jovially, 'No—other than The Devil Wears Prada.'" (Has Rushdie read it? No...or so he says.)

Last fall Barneys New York's creative director Simon Doonan (also an author) listed his five best books about fashion for the Opinion Journal.

Number 5:

The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark (Knopf, 1963)

Fashion and style are, for better or worse, the gasoline that fuels the chick-lit juggernaut--distressingly popular books packed with references to Prada and Bergdorfs. For worthy chick lit we need to go all the way back to "The Girls of Slender Means." Though written with all the subtlety we expect from La Spark, it has all the chick-lit basics: man problems, the cruel triumph of the thin over the fat, the power of a beautiful dress to draw a girl back into a burning building. The scene, though, is one of postwar deprivation. It must have been so wonderful to spend your days longing for a new lipstick or a fresh pair of nylons. And when you finally got your paws on them--the pure unadulterated joy!
His first four selections are not as appealing to me: click here to read about them.

Muriel Spark, who died earlier this year, was perhaps best known as the author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Read her BBC obituary here.

My favorite Spark novel is Momento Mori, of which Stephen Shiff wrote in the New Yorker:

She had been a starving writer and editor in the classic style when success bonked her on the head in the late fifties...with Memento Mori, a complex, beautiful, and terrifyingly insightful novel about old age, which Graham Greene claimed 'has delighted me as much as any novel that I have read since the war.' [Her oeuvre] now makes up one of the most trenchant and accomplished bodies of literary work since the Second World War.
In 2003 the novelist Carol Shields wrote an insightful essay on re-reading The Girls of Slender Means; click here to read it.

--Marshal Zeringue