Review: Bergdorf Blondes

February 24, 2009



“I guess Charlie was my Angel, if there’s such a thing as an analogy between men you hate and scents you hate.” The capitalization in this sentence is the key. It separates sounding frighteningly naive from sounding passably suave. The heroine of Plum Sykes’ novel Bergdorf Blondes, the kitschy and neurotic moi, spends all of her time trying to prove that she does not have a brain when her spot-on observations and cultural and literary allusions reveal otherwise. She parties, spends and drinks with the vapid glitteratti in New York, Paris, Cannes and Gstaad. Nevertheless, her heartbreaking fragility concealing something like a sarcastic pantheress makes us endeared to her  and celebrate her good fortune and tolerate her sorrows and moods. “To name a sensibility, to draw its contours and to recount its history, requires a deep sympathy modified by revulsion.” Sontag, Susan. “Notes on ‘Camp’” Essays. 1966. 

“For a brief second I had an image of myself surrounded by ravenous, unreliable men on a sinking ship, but I shook myself out of it.” (227) So when she says something like: “Can I admit something, very much on the d-l? I used to think that being somewhere chic with lots of room service and Christian Liagre furniture makes you happy. It doesn’t.” (243) Lest you think that there will be some kind of moral redemption, our heroine is not about to give up her pampered lifestyle. You cannot feel angry with her for making the same mistakes over and over again. Somewhere, no matter how on the d-l, she knows exactly what she is doing and why. Her protagonists are not the coddled dolls of centuries past. They accept their “One minute Jazz was another innocent lumber heiress, the next she was a ruthless satellite of the Valentino fashion empire.” (289) 

Still, she is not exactly a feminist. “ Athough I generally find the more career a girl has, the more man she thinks about.” (264) Between reminiscing about the English countryside, a place that she has not at all forgotten despite her claims to contrary. “There is nothing in the world that compares with England on a warm summer’s day.” (267) 

Still, her wit reaches high, leavening her sometime dense prose. Yes, I know I called it dense, but there really is a lot of material in there if you want to get technical. Fortunately, Ms. Sykes saves us with: “It’s good to know there are some people J. Crew will never reach.” (275) The book ends in a whirl of peach fizz… (literally) We can close our books and go back to our snug little worlds, thankful that we are not rich but still wanting their clothes… ” The ultimate Camp statement: it’s good because it’s awful . . . Of course, one can’t always say that. Only under certain conditions, those which I’ve tried to sketch in these notes.” -Susan Sontag, Notes on “Camp” 1966.