The Best of Everything

14 May

Several months ago, I picked up a proof of a book called The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe. The cover billed it as the original Sex and the City; five girls, living, working and loving in New York city during the fifties. The cover also boasted ‘As featured in Mad Men.’ At this point I hadn’t even seen Mad Men, but I knew I liked it, and I was a Sex in the City fan, so my fancy was tickled.

There are some pretty strong resemblances to Mad Men, it has to be said; our main character, Caroline Bender is a bit of a Peggy Olson, trying resolutely to make her way in the world of men.  In this case however, its the publishing business, rather than Madison Avenue, that our heroine tries to conquer. The rest of the cast is made up of Caroline’s contemporaries: office girls, wannabe actresses and naive young girls. We follow their relationships and stabs at romance, which are in turn humorous, darkly disturbing and tragic. What’s really interesting about the book is the fact that the film version was in production before the story had even been written! Fans of The Apartment, starring Shirley MacLaine, will also find parallels between the setting and the combination of the comedic and the very serious.

Sex and The City/Mad Men lover or not, this is a really great book, written as an attempt to tell the truth about the experience of a generation of women who went out to work, unlike their mothers, in a prefeminist era coloured by Hollywood, the shadow of WWII and the stirrings of cultural revolution. Out now in paperback, this is the real deal.

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