Book review: Killing Monica by Candace Bushnell

Candace Bushnell. Picture: Getty Images
Candace Bushnell. Picture: Getty Images
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CANDACE Bushnell denies that this novel is in any way based on her own life and her relationship with her most famous character, Carrie Bradshaw of Sex And The City. But as Carrie herself used to say: “I couldn’t help but wonder…”

Killing Monica

Candace Bushnell

Grand Central Publishing, £7.50

Her protagonist, Pandemonia, or PJ, Wallis, is a bestselling novelist of a series of books about a single girl in New York – Monica – which spawns popular movies starring SondraBeth Schnauzer in the title role. The success of the Monica films and the public’s identification with the actress who plays her brings riches and fame for SondraBeth, while PJ, her creator, is left jealous of her recognition. PJ, after all, feels she is the real Monica. Furthermore, she feels trapped into churning out more cash-cow Monica books when she would prefer to try writing serious literature.

Added issues with a boyfriend mean the writer and actress shift from inseparable friends to bitter enemies. Pandemonia – whose friends call her Pandy, just as the shortened form of Candace is Candy – is also going through a divorce from a philandering chef. In real life Bushnell divorced her ballet dancer husband after ten years of marriage, citing infidelity. There are also rumours that Bushnell and Sarah Jessica Parker, who played Bradshaw, fell out after initially being firm friends.

So far, so roman à clef; a spiteful exposé of real life squabbles, jealousies and perceived slights – with name changes.

SondraBeth Schnauzer as a character name is surely a play on Sarah Jessica Parker, complete with nose pun. I’m hoping that nosey parker/schnozz is the joke she is getting at here, rather than a comment on SJP’s facial features or – worse – her Jewish background.

But elsewhere her barbs are so vicious that I’m not inclined to give Bushnell the benefit of the doubt. SondraBeth steals Pandy’s boyfriend – wild-living actor Doug Stone, aptly named as he is a stoner, who has more than a heady whiff of SJP’s ex, Robert Downey Jr.

Perhaps Bushnell’s lowest blow, however, is when Stone’s character says scathingly of his fiancée, SondraBeth: “She’ll never have a baby. Not while she is Monica, anyway. A baby would ruin her schedule.” SJP used a surrogate in real life to have twins. If these aren’t deliberate barbs aimed at her former friend, Bushnell must be the most gaffe-prone writer in the world.

The story that hangs these attacks together has the trademarks of earlier Bushnell novels. The reader is invited to become an insider in a celebrity world of film-making, publishing and fashionable restaurants. A friend of PJ complains of having to be engaged to a liver-spotted 80-year-old because he’s a billionaire, pink champagne is ubiquitous and the reader is never left wondering what each character is wearing on their feet. While brand names are effortlessly popped into the text, the same can’t be said for the jokes.

The idea of being in on the juiciest scandals and best parties is seductive, but spending time with two women who – when on speaking terms – call each other “Peege” and “Squeege” is a price too high to pay.

In the second half of the book the tale turns into a ludicrous farce as PJ and SondraBeth join forces to give the rotten ex-husband a comeuppance that involves karaoke, the mob and dressing up as Mother Teresa. A surprise reveal in the final chapter has no point to it and mishandles a sensitive subject.

Reading Killing Monica is like being trapped in a taxi between a divorcing couple who are throwing intimate and insulting details of their marriage across you. You don’t care why they hate each other so much, you just wish they’d thrash it out in private.