Tag Archives: The Pink Suit

Paperbacks to Look Out For in April 2015: Part 2

Cover imageMy second April paperback selection begins with a book whose jacket which will either charm you or make you feel as if you’ve stumbled into a Barbie nightmare. You might also be forgiven for thinking that there’s nothing new or original to say about the Kennedy assassination but having already read and enjoyed Nicole Mary Kelby’s The Pink Suit in its more restrained hardback incarnation, I’m happy to recommend it. By telling her fictionalised story of the infamous suit through Kate, a back room girl at Chez Ninon, Kelby niftily avoids the well-trodden Kennedy path with its apparently endless power to fascinate.

Louise Levene’s The Following Girls is a satire on  schoolgirl life in the 1970s, stuffed full of pitch-perfect period detail. It’s a novel which will have women of a certain age and education both squirming and cackling in recognition. Levene’s sharpest skill is her ability to signal the pain beneath her narrator’s witty rejoinders.  I’m already looking forward to rereading this one.

Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists was one of those novels that caught the affections of many readers including me. His second, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, begins in a Welsh bookshop run by Tooly Zylberberg who finds a message on her Facebook page – her father is in trouble, can she come and help? As far as Tooly’s concerned she hasn’t seen her father since she was eleven, abducted in Bangkok by a women called Sarah who promptly disappeared leaving her with Humphrey, the Russian chess-playing bibliophile who brought her up – and it’s Humphrey who’s in trouble. Rachman’s second novel is as absorbing and entertaining as his first.Cover image

Joseph O’Neill made a similar splash with his first novel, Netherland. HarperCollins must have hardly believed their luck when Barack Obama announced he was taking it on holiday with him. The Dog didn’t meet with quite the same brouhaha but I still plan to read it. Needing a fresh start, a New York attorney accepts his old friend’s offer of a job in Dubai but begins to wonder if it’s quite the gift horse he’d thought.

Edan Lepucki’s California also had a little celebrity stardust sprinkled on it when US comedian Stephen Colbert suggested his viewers buy it from their local indie during the Hatchette/Amazon debacle. Set in the near future, it’s one of those post-apocalyptic novels that have sprung up since 2008 in which Cal and Frida have fled a ruined Los Angeles when they find that Frida is pregnant. They’re faced with a choice – fend for themselves or seek out the help of a paranoid community which may not be worthy of their trust. I’m not usually a fan of this kind of novel but there’s something about the synopsis that attracts me.

Cover imageI’ve been looking forward to Tim Winton’s Eyrie for some time. I first came across Winton through Cloudstreet, an odd, vaguely mystical novel about a family living in a ramshackle house in the ’30s – hard to characterise but this Time Out quote may give you an idea: ‘Imagine Neighbours being taken over by the writing team of John Steinbeck and Gabriel Garcia Marquez and you’ll be close to the heart of Winton’s impressive tale’. In Eyrie, Tom Keely, living in self-imposed isolation in a high-rise, allows his solitude to be penetrated by a woman he once knew leading him into a dangerous, destructive world

That’s it for April paperbacks. If you missed the first part but would like to catch up here it is, and if you’d like to check out my hardback choices they’re here.

The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby: A love affair with style

The Pink SuitI’ve never been the girly type and would’ve been first in the booksellers’ queue muttering did we really need another book about the Kennedys – although mercifully with no mention of Marilyn Monroe – so my attraction to The Pink Suit may seem a little odd but I’d enjoyed Nicole Mary Kelby’s White Truffles in Winter so much that it tickled my fancy. By telling her fictionalised story of the infamous suit through Kate, a back room girl at Chez Ninon, Kelby niftily avoids the well-trodden Kennedy path with its apparently endless power to fascinate.

Run by two ageing, somewhat tyrannical but charming old dears, Chez Ninon has stepped into the breach opened up by the political furore over the Wife’s (as she’s known) penchant for French couture. The Garment Workers’ union has been up in arms and must be appeased as must the milliners who are affronted that neither Kennedy wears a hat. The Wife has sketched a suit to be made in pink bouclè, a Chanel suit which will have to be tailored under license from Coco herself. Kate, unsung yet supremely talented, is to make it. She adores her work, incapable of imagining life without the touch of gorgeous fabric, a luxury enjoyed second-hand and sometimes first when there are remnants to liberate. On the fringes of privilege, she’s an invisible observer whose work is barely acknowledged, unaware of how she’s thought of in her rundown neighbourhood until she’s forced to reconsider her friendship with Patrick whose beloved mother recommended her for her job.

Through Kate, Kelby explores the world of high fashion, lightly weaving strands of social history through her lovely descriptions of fabric and the machinations of Maison Blanche as those in control of the Wife’s wardrobe are dubbed at Chez Ninon. There’s a nice little scene in which Kate admires a group of black subway riders musing that many of the Harlem tailors learnt their trade in Italy. It becomes clear that one of the riders is Dr Martin Luther King whose tie she compliments, distancing herself from the nasty piece of casual racism which comes before. The political significance of the suit is cleverly portrayed, from the message it’s to convey on its first wearing – it was worn several times before November 22nd 1963 – to the nit-picking analysis with which it will be met by a media looking for any signs of excess or lack of patriotism, let alone style. Subtle parallels are drawn between the Wife and Kate, both beautiful women from an Irish immigrant background one dedicated to the other who remains in complete ignorance of her. The only foot put wrong for me was towards the end when Kate wears her own replica of the suit but that’s a small quibble in what is otherwise a thoroughly enjoyable novel. Hard not to read it without thinking about the intense scrutiny suffered by politicians’ or celebrities’ partners which is infinitely worse now than it was fifty years ago. Coping with the lacerating tabloid observations regularly meted out must be bad enough if you’ve chosen to be in the public eye but seem wholly undeserved if you haven’t.