The Wardrobe Girl by Jennifer Smart
Bantam/ Random House RRP: $32.99
I think you’ll like this if you’re into:
– Bridget Jones style romantic comedy reads
– Australian soap operas and celebrity gossip
– Discovering bright new Australian women writers.
For more information (and a free sample chapter) visit Random House.
The Wardrobe Girl is pitched as a Bridget Jones-esque rom com with a TV twist. Debut Australian author Jennifer Smart spent several years as a writer and Director’s Assistant on Home and Away, so what she doesn’t know about the machinations of a life in soap probably aren’t worth writing down. Smart hands this knowledge to protagonist Tess Appleby, a former BBC costume design high flyer who’s fled London for her Sydney home after a failed romance. She now finds herself the wardrobe girl at ‘Pretty Beach Rescue’, with a low budget and even lower morale while she figures out a new direction for her life.
If you enjoy a little behind-the-scenes TV insight you’ll love learning about the science of wardrobe selection – how to bring out the leading man’s eyes, how to ensure skinny starlets don’t fade into the ocean backdrop – as well as all the politics, backstabbing and partner nabbing one expects from the young and the beautiful. It is fairly easy to send up the stereotypes of the wannabe-famous bimbos and himbos that characteristically populate beach-side soaps, and Smart has dabbled in that sort of humour in this book. At the same time, however, I really enjoyed her treatment of the difficulties young celebrities (and, indeed, wardrobe girls) face with paparazzi and social media. I don’t envy them one tiny bit, no matter how great they look in a bikini!
Tess has a convoluted romantic history, which is further complicated by the media ‘small world’ which sees her running into ex’s left, right and centre. Those she doesn’t encounter in person continue to haunt her from the pages of magazines; her most recent beau took up with a member of a UK girl band, for example, thus becoming frequent fodder for the social (climbing) pages. Back in Sydney, Tess relies on guidance from a few solid girlfriends as she fends off advances from the Pretty Beach cast and crew. Her family members – including an ageing actress mother and acclaimed director father – are completely unreliable and thoroughly unlikeable. They provide some of the books darker moments, with nasty, selfish outbursts that make it clear why Tess escaped to London in the first place.
Just like a soapie, locations are all important in this novel. Most of the action takes place in London or Sydney, and Smart takes her time inviting the reader to connect with both cities. Having lived in London, I walked with Tess through her favourite neighbourhoods, relating to that feeling of being ‘In London Still’ (as the song goes). On the other hand, I only know Sydney as a tourist, so I used Smart’s descriptions to conjure up fresh images of that city. It works either way.
The Wardrobe Girl is a fun, light read with a little romance, a little ‘personal journey’ and a dash of racy tabloid tell-all. Tess is the perfect leading lady, with all of Ms Jones’ bad luck, but with a bit more of a street wise edge. Perhaps it’s the Aussie in her?