I read this profile of Shirley Conran, the author of this 1982 classic bonk buster re-released last July with this marvellous cover, over the summer and mentally put it on my To Be Read list. Then at the ForBooksSake birthday party I got chatting to a very friendly lady who had a copy of Lace in her bag and was waxing lyrical about it, so when I popped in to Central Library the day before I’d booked two days off work and saw it on their Lovely Display I thought, that’s my holiday right there.
Lace is wonderful. Over-long, ridiculous in parts, wincingly old fashioned and gloriously un-PC this is what a bonk-buster should be. Sex, fashion, business, love, fear, political manoeuvrings and friendship combine in a sweeping story that goes back and forth between the lives of the four main characters, and the glamorous but tragic Lilli, who confronts them in middle age with her demand to know ‘which one of you bitches is my mother?’.
Friends since their confinement in a Swiss finishing school, Maxine, Kate, Pagan and waitress Judy go through pretty much every major life event and crisis it is possible for a woman to have. From post-natal depression, alcoholism, a husband coming out as a transvestite, career changes and sexual discovery the women support each other as only old friends who don’t need to see each other all the time to still feel that bond can do.
Shirley Conran gets female friendship right on the nose. The careers these women eventually have might seem slightly wish-fulfillmenty, but the beginning of the book, when they are 16, at school and trying to figure out men and sex for the first time was at once hilariously funny and spot on. I’ve been sat on the end of that bed discussing how far you take it on various dates, what it feels like and what it means and it is only as an adult you realise you knew nothing. I’m pretty certain when I’m in my forties I shall be looking at myself now and be thinking exactly the same thing and that is what Lace does, it allows you to laugh at your teenage self and look forward to the future.
The men are all explicably awful, abusers, manipulators, weak cheaters and heart breakers and parts of the book where the women literally stomp all over them are quite maddening as they demonstrate power though individual violence rather than solidarity, as I would prefer. Lace shows how even the strongest most independent of women can be flattened by a bad man. It also shows how easy it would be for someone in power to manipulate and control someone vulnerable, and trigger warnings for rape, abuse, underage abuse, and all that goes with that have to be given. A book that opens with a thirteen year old having an abortion shouldn’t really be read lightly. But parts of Lace made me laugh out loud, and parts made me cry as well.
Then there are the sexy parts. This isn’t Black Lace, it isn’t half as explicit as some of the other bonk-busters I’ve read (I’m looking at you, Jilly Cooper…) but damn is it sexy. Apart from the bit with the goldfish (which doesn’t actually happen), that bit is just plain icky. Personally though, I am all for visiting a champagne factory Any Time Soon.
I would have happily read this in a couple of days and done nothing else apart from eat lots of chocolate and drink expensive red wine whilst wrapped in a fur, as that is what this book makes you want to do (along with visit a champagne factory) so if you’ve got a couple of days to yourself this winter try and get somewhere with a real fire and 70s lighting and indulge in this book. I want to buy copies for all my girlfriends from school and if I had been a teenager in the early 80s I’d have been reading this under the covers with a torch. In fact I can’t quite believe my mother never snuck me this and am quite disappointed with her for not doing so!
I got my copy from the library, and it is a perfect library book as it feels more like a ‘treat’ when it’s got a plastic cover. Get it out, enjoy, and try not to be embarrassed by the ensuing blushes and bursts of laughter. And have the tissues on standby.