Author: Candace Bushnell
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Author Candace Bushnell has repeatedly denied that her latest work, Killing Monica, is in any way based on her life. Nor is it a reflection of her relationship with Sex And The City star Sarah Jessica Parker (SJP).
“There’s just no truth to that allegation,” she was quoted as saying in one media interview.
But the parallels are too many – and yes, juicy – to ignore.
For starters, in Killing Monica protagonist Pandy “PJ” Wallis is a writer whose bestseller is about a young woman making her way in Manhattan. So famous is Monica, she spawns a series of blockbuster films.
SondraBeth Schnowzer, who plays Monica on the big screen – and is Pandy’s ex-best friend – has become a household name. She is described as having “masses and masses” of hair, which kinda reminds you of a certain SJP, no?
For the uninitiated, Bushnell’s Sex And The City (SATC) book was turned into the hit TV series of the same name that led to two movies. Of course, it also made SJP – who played girl-about-town Carrie Bradshaw – very, very famous.
Along the way, Bushnell, much like Pandy in Killing Monica, was conveniently forgotten. Early on in the book, Pandy – looking at a Monica billboard being erected – grouses about how her “based on the books” credit gets “smaller and smaller each year”.
Fans of Carrie – she’s still beloved till today – must be thinking: In what universe is killing off the heroine remotely funny? But I have to admit: it is a very intriguing premise. And one that lured this fan of SATC (the TV series, not the book) into reading Killing Monica.
According to Bushell, her most attention-grabbing and “controversial” book since SATC is “really about rediscovering one’s self, and if needed, reinventing the self”. Blah, blah, blah. She has denied that Monica is Carrie. Why, the big difference between Monica and Carrie is the former loves pink Champagne while Carrie is a fan of cosmopolitans. More blah.
Anyways, the plot: While Pandy’s Monica books are a success, she wants recognition as a serious literary writer with something different: a historical novel based on her ancestor, Lady Wallis. But Pandy’s publishers and audience only want more about Monica. As does her greedy husband Jonny – though the marriage soon crumbles (Bushnell endured a painful divorce in 2011).
When Pandy’s family boathouse goes up in flames, she realises she has an opportunity to reinvent herself. But to do so, she will have to reconcile with SondraBeth, who may have her own reasons for wanting to terminate Monica.
In the book’s last quarter, Pandy and SondraBeth also plot revenge against Jonny. But the madcap development feels rather far-fetched.
And there is a final twist (very timely, in a Caitlyn Jenner manner) which makes this an enjoyable beach read.
Despite Bushnell’s many attempts to humanise Pandy, it is SondraBeth who comes across as the fully developed character.
Pandy’s other friends, including a bunch of Champagne-guzzling women who evoke shades of SATC’s Samantha with their frankness about sex, are shallow. Her agent Henry is an intriguing character, but is underused.
Throughout Killing Monica, Bushnell skewers and spoofs her way through pop culture, fame and celebrity worship. Occasionally, she is sharp and insightful.
Most interesting is her sentiment about the entertainment industry; how artists’ works get dwarfed by corporate giants that only care about the bottom line. She also squeezes in as much dialogue about sexism and women empowerment as she can.
A feminist leader says in one scene, “When a woman contributes to the entertainment industry, she is not rewarded justly. Because women may do what they do and be geniuses, but it is still men at the top who make decisions, including how much money the women will be paid. It is men who are lining their pockets with the efforts of women. It is men who have made millions, maybe billions, from Monica.”
Could this be the difficult lesson Bushnell learned from selling SATC to Tinseltown?
One can only guess. And guessing, in this instance, is part of the fun.