26 Books to Read in 2015: #13

Before I begin, I wanted to let you all know that after deep reflection and consideration I decided that making any sort of snarky comment about the way this challenge item is worded would be way too easy and way too cheap a shot.

That said, #13 is: A Book With a Female Heroine.

Oh, okay, just one:

department_of_redundancy_Moving on: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Intimate Diary of a Professional Lady by Anita Loos.

GentlemenPreferBlondes

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, later turned into a Broadway musical and then a movie based on the musical, was first published in 1925.  The story doesn’t take anything seriously, and neither does its  narrator, even as shrewd observations of an era are revealed.

Our heroine, Lorelai Lee, is vapid, naive, cheerfully amoral, and, oh yeah, she once shot a guy but that’s okay because she’s improving herself now.  The book is presented in a series of Lorelai’s poorly spelled diary entries, all about her travels through Europe with her best friend Dorothy.  Through the diary we learn about Lorelai’s past in Little Rock (that unfortunate incident with the gun), her time in Hollywood, and her present ventures in New York.  She has a maid named Lulu, drinks a lot of champagne, and is very concerned with the shape of her hats and the size of the diamonds on her jewelry.

Original illustration by Ralph Barton.
Original illustration by Ralph Barton.

One of the one-star reviews I read on Goodreads said: “Possibly the worst book I’ve ever read. Poor grammar, poor spelling and poor sentence structure makes this potentially easy read challenging and mind numbing. I feel less intelligent having read this book. Characters are unlikeable and do not evolve.

Um, yes. In fact:

thatsthejokeIf you’ve read Louise Rennison’s Georgia Nicholson books (the first is Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging), you’ll see the exact type of character and sense of humor that I mean. The total lack of self-awareness of the main character is part of the fun, particularly because the joke is usually on them.  It’s a pastiche of shallow, vulgar, materialistic pop culture, and it rings as true today as it did in the Jazz Age.  The irony positively drips off every page.

In fact, I’d say Lorelai is the ironic comedy version of Daisy from The Great Gatsby.  They’re both understood to be of the flapper type, and portrayed as  careless and self-involved.  Loos just takes the archetype in the direction of comedy, even as she describes cultural absurdities.  And Dorothy, the chaperone and best friend, is always there to remind us that our heroine is, well, possessed of brains which “reminded her of a radio because you listen to it for days and days and you get discouradged and just when you are getting ready to smash it, something comes out that is a masterpiece.”

I laughed out loud several times while reading this thoroughly clever, ironic, and hilarious novel.  Lorelai is a wonderful heroine, and as much as you roll your eyes at her you still enjoy being with her.  And her happy ending is just the kind you’d expect for her.

In the course of writing this post I found some great articles about Anita Loos, the background of the novel, and the splash it made upon publication (Edith Wharton loved it!).  One of them is from 2013, describing the “Another Look” Book Club at Stanford, and an exploration of the book.  You can find it here.

–Marie

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