Before you say anything – Girls in White Dresses is not chick-lit. I wouldn’t have read it if it was. It just sort of looks and sort of sounds like it; but when you think about it, it only looks like it because the cover has pink writing and a girl in a white dress holding flowers, and polka dots. It doesn’t have a pink background, or a cheesy tagline, or a handwriting font that is all sparkly and aspirational. And it only sounds like it because ‘girls in white dresses’ sounds all wedding-y, but when you think about it, it’s a reference to The Sound of Music; it only references weddings a bit. It’s more metaphorical.
The quote from Vanity Fair on the back of the book states that the central characters (yes, all female) have ‘the pluck and gimlet eye of Carrie Bradshaw’s younger, smarter sisters.’ Now. Be careful here. I watched Sex and the City on TV, and have all of it on DVD, and love it. Like, LOVE it. I saw the first film in the cinema and actually hated it. HATED. I have seen bits of the second film on TV, and it looks like complete rubbish. The films are NOTHING like the TV series, which was intelligent, witty, clever, funny, and modern. The movies are like crap adaptations of the TV series. Anyway, when you see ‘Carrie Bradshaw’ on the back of this book, do not think of the SATC films. Remember the sheer brilliance of the TV series, the sarcasm and witty quips, the frankness about dating and sex. The way Darren Star meant it to be.
There has been a fair bit of hype about Girls in White Dresses, and so I bagged myself a copy from the lovely folks at Vintage. After having read the dark noir thriller The Empty Glass, I was well up for reading something a little lighter and happier – something that would make me smile rather than frown. And I found it. Author Jennifer Close takes three friends as her central characters (Isabella, Lauren, and Mary) but includes episodes from the lives of some of their friends, in which the three main girls pop up and offer a withering opinion. I really liked this structure. In a way somewhat reminiscent of early SATC (as well as the book, Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell, which I would recommend), chapters start with a random girl, and then it turns out she knows one of the three main girls – but this is done so casually, so under-the-radar that Close’s sneakiness makes you smile.
At times the shortness of the episodes means that the structure gets a bit ‘this happened, and then this happened, and then this, and this’, but mostly the humour and frankness win you over, and this doesn’t matter too much. Time flies by quite quickly, and sometimes Close jumps back to an episode in ‘college’ (oh, just say ‘university’), but not so much that you get muddled – it’s all background for the present. What’s good about the episodic style is that it feels like Close is only showing you the really important bits from these girls’ stories – there is no waffle or pages and pages of descriptions. The writing is neat, sparse and to the point, but still with plenty of humour and literary ‘flair’, if I can use that word.
The style is also quite chatty, and though there are dramatic scenes they happen quite quickly, like everything else, and so you don’t have a lot of time to wallow in them or analyse them. That said, they are not made to seem trivial – Close just does not dwell on anything. Time and the narrative move forward at quite a swift pace.
The only real problem I have with this book is the ending. It happens not unexpectedly but rather swiftly – too swiftly for me. Even at the end there is no philosophising, no wondering why these three girls took longer to settle down than all their friends. It’s a little too neat. I also have a couple of feminist gripes with the ending – but that would ruin it for you.
Published in the UK on 9th August 2012 by Vintage, an imprint of Random House. My copy was kindly provided by the publisher for review.