A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
The thing about my friend Charlie is that she has a way of ringing you up and just launching straight into whatever’s on her mind. Now, this might be any number of things, from climate change to the evils of the cosmetics industry to her mother-in-law’s unhealthy fixation with the state of Charlie’s uterus. It’s never short of cataclysmic. So I was a little surprised when she phoned yesterday evening and opened with:
“Ticky, did you ever watch Sex and the City?”
“Of course I did,” I said. “I saw it when it was, you know, on telly. I suppose you didn’t?”
“Well, no. I mean, we were still at school when it started up. Obviously I couldn’t watch it at home, so I never really got into it.” I boggled for a moment, and then realised she couldn’t see me boggling.
“You couldn’t watch it at home? Really? I can’t imagine your parents banning it or anything.”
“That’s the problem,” said Charlie darkly. “My mum always watched it. She’d sit there and keep up a sort of running commentary. It was like a filthy version of the BBC red button.” Charlie’s mum Susan was a former nurse who’d gone into sex ed. Everyone at school thought she was incredibly cool, except Charlie.
“God, I wish I’d known,” I said. “I’d have come to watch it at your house. Anyway, why the sudden interest?”
“Oh, Tim’s away at this green development forum thingy in Azerbaijan and I was rooting about for something mindless to watch and, do you know, someone must have got me the Sex and the City box set at some point—”
“Probably your mum.” I wandered through to my bedroom and flung open the wardrobe.
“Oh, God, probably. She got me the Kama Sutra one year, you know. She’d stuck helpful little post-it notes all through it. Tim still can’t look her in the eye. Anyway, I started on it a couple of days ago. The box set, not the Kama Sutra.”
“What d’you think of it?” I asked, flicking through a rail of dresses with the phone wedged between shoulder and ear (not as easy as they make it look in films, by the way).
“Well, I wasn’t exactly expecting a feminist manifesto, but I do think the concept is good. The whole idea of a comedy about women who enjoy sex for its own sake is still pretty groundbreaking, sadly. Except that Sex and the City isn’t really about that, is it, most of the time? It’s mostly about women getting insanely worked up about relationships and obsessing about their appearance. Seriously, Ticky,” she went on, her voice rising, “it’s just so incredibly condescending. Actual women have a far more complex interior life. We don’t spend all our time going on about men and fashion. We have lives of our own, you know?”
“Uh huh. Listen, Charlie, what do you think? Strapless, strapless and backless, or strapless and backless and sparkly?” Charlie sighed.
“What’s the occasion?”
“Seriously? Aren’t you meant to wear workout clothes or something? Oh, I don’t know, Ticky. Whatever feels right, I suppose.”
“I just don’t want to be too subtle,” I fretted, then realised I was probably heading for a lecture and promptly changed course. “Er, yes. Terribly unrepresentative. Priorities totally skewed.”
“Exactly. And, you know, it might be better if we saw it from, say, Miranda’s viewpoint. Or Samantha’s. They’re both strong characters and they actually do the whole sexual liberation thing. But no, we get stuck with Carrie. Bloody Carrie the drama queen, with her footwear fixation and her constant temper tantrums and her infinite bloody egotism, who starts every sentence with the words ‘In New York’, and who is apparently supposed to be some kind of aspirational Everywoman. The only way it could be worse,” declared Charlie, “is if it was all filtered through Charlotte. Of all the self-infantilising, status-obsessed…” I carefully laid the phone down on the bed and went to the kitchen to make some tea. Returning with my mug, I put the phone to my ear.
“…suppose we do, at least, see the mechanisms at work. I mean, even Carrie has a modicum of self-awareness, although not enough to stop her cheating on—”
“Wait a minute,” I said, “just how far have you got already?”
“Season Four.” I almost spat out my tea.
“And you started watching it a couple of days back?”
“Look,” she said, a tad defensively, “I said it was ideologically bankrupt. I didn’t say it wasn’t any good. Plus, you know, it’s an interesting cultural phenomenon, and it ought to be studied.”
So we agreed that she’d lend me the box set once she was done with it—which should be within 48 hours, at the rate she was going—and I’d lend her my collection of Candace Bushnell novels, so she could “really understand the thing.” And then we hung up, and Charlie went off to look through paint samples for her brand new old-style farmhouse kitchen while I decided what to wear for my private lesson with the gorgeous Leandro.
Hey, we’re real women, with complex interior lives. We’re bloody well allowed.