A Classic in Chick Lit’s Clothing

15 Jun

As you may remember, a while ago I bemoaned the fact that I had lost my copy of The Group on a Manhattan cross-town bus. That’s right; I was being all jet-set and cosmopolitan, messing about with subways and taxi cabs, reading my book and somehow managed to leave it behind whilst on an excursion into the depths of the lower East side. Luckily, I happened upon a copy on my mother’s bookshelf from way back when. So I finished it. And it’s really brilliant. However, first of all, lets get a few things straight; it may possess similarities with another book I reviewed here, The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe, but it isn’t the same. Ok, so, they share the same basic proviso of describing the lives of young women in New York City in order to expose the ‘realities’ of women’s experiences. But The Group is set twenty years before Jaffe’s story of women in the workplace, and, I’d argue, its scope is much bigger. This leads me to my second disclaimer: the book’s cover. Now, what I am about to say will undoubtedly out me as a massive book snob; let me just proclaim that I love all literature. The Group’s contemporary cover markets it as high-brow chick lit (the black and white/colour photo contrast gives it away) and its feminist-cum-sociological angle seeps through quite visibly at times (New York skyline equals Sex in the City circa 1929). This book however, is much more than retro chick lit. At times, its attempt to paint a picture of not just ‘the group’s’ lives, but of large sections of American society before WWII, McCarthysim and Feminism, feels, dare I say it, Tolstoy-esque. We not only get an detailed insight into how men and women courted, loved and cheated during the thirties, but we are also provided with a glimpse of the political complexities of the period through the various characters’ espousal of different social issues and campaigns, from Socialism to the New Deal. I really loved this book. When it was published in 1966, it was given a relatively serious-looking cover, albeit with a daisy. But it really gets my goat that its current incarnation relegates it to the ‘light reads’ table. As a result, it’s unlikely that many men would whip it out on the tube without feeling a little self-conscious, let alone the chick-lit phobes like me, who would normally turn their noses up at it. An excellent lesson I suppose, in not judging books by their covers. 

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