It was interesting reading a chic lit novel written by an Australian living in London. Author Jessica Adams has a clear love for her homeland yet an insatiability for England that’s still apparent, despite the light-hearted bagging she gives Old Blighty in this tale about a young woman on the verge of a major sea change.
Lead character Alice Templeton is the creative type – a Jill-of-all-trades with a passion for fashion and all things vintage, and a keen desire to begin her own clothing label – Vintage Alice – a whimsical aspiration that has kept her in shoddy jobs (and in the poor house) her entire working life.
When her boyfriend Nash secures a well-paying music teaching role at a private school in Sydney, Alice is beyond delighted. Sick of London’s sodding ways and her pauper-like status, she joyously piggybacks on her boyfriend’s emigration, despite her misgivings on the future of their relationship.
Prior to the couple’s departure, things begin to sour with Nash. With the help of Heidi (the couple’s Australian emigration officer in London) and her cousin in Sydney, Alice applies for a job at a dog kennel in Byron Bay and quietly sets up a loose Plan B that will secure her great Aussie dream, even if things go pear-shaped with Nash – which they quickly do. The couple split shortly before their flight to Sydney.
With little to support her solo emigration application, Alice strikes it [extremely] lucky with Australian authorities and jets off, sans Nash, on a long-desired dream to turn her life around in the Great Southern Land. Sure, she encounters gorgeous beaches and sunshine and warm people, but it’s some little twists, sweet surprises, amazing good fortune and near tragedy that lead our heroine to a new and unexpected love – and I’m not talking about the Great Southern Land.
Adams paints Alice as a warm, likeable character, despite her latent apathy and total inability to seize some awesome possibilities and strike while her sewing machine is hot. In spite of an endless parade of gawping fashion lovers who adore her clothing designs, Alice seems incapable of carving a future for herself, even when astonishing opportunities land smack bang in her velvet lap. At one stage I was almost screaming into the book’s pages to wake her from her fashion wasteland reverie.
Even near tragedy doesn’t seem to wake Alice from her apathetic trance. Devastating loss hardly flutters a dozing eyelid, and to this end, I truly wondered if Alice was really capable of establishing herself in the world in a productive way. The fact that she was rapidly partial to a handout was also a tad lip curling.
Despite these small disappointments, Alice doesn’t apologize nor try to justify her weaknesses, and in this way, her character becomes somewhat endearing. Alice is quite simply Who She Is – honest, open, faulty… and real.
The supporting characters in Vintage Alice are mostly bit players who waft in and out of the storyline, creating solid points of interest. They consist of an interesting array of eccentrics, and I most particularly enjoyed Alice’s mother and her Bondi market pals, Matty and Jade. I do love an eccentric character – something very easily found in both London and Sydney – and Adams takes full advantage with her fun cast.
In all, Vintage Alice is a warm chic lit read that I found myself happily dipping into at the end of each day. Not only was I keen to see what was going to happen next in the bubbling storyline, I found myself keen to check in with the characters themselves. The book has its typical predictabilities (neatly-tied-bow ending) and moderately far-fetched elements (emigrating to Australia with 65 cents and a job at a Byron Bay dog kennel) but it also has enough twists, hooks and downright fun to keep the reader piqued.
But the most interesting thing I discovered with this novel was the view of Australia in the eyes of a Londoner via an Australian author. Having lived in London during the nineties and falling in love with life in the English capital, it was intriguing to witness Alice’s disdain for her home town, and most especially to see her expectations and estimations of Australia.
Sure, many overseas visitors speak of their terror over our country’s plethora of deadly creatures, lurking around every corner and under every toilet seat, not to mention its crushing heat, fatal ocean rips and crocs cruising for a bite. All this, I can totally empathize with. Adam’s descriptions, however, of Australia being a place where everything is done ‘upside down and back-to-front’ was totally off the wall. For me, Australian life couldn’t be more straight forward, down to earth, reliable and easy.
Main character Alice also finds Australians easy to deal with and life to be direct and cruisey, so it seems a contradiction to have our Down Under lifestyle consistently described as ‘the wrong way round’. Was this the author’s perception or the perception of her main character? I’m not sure.
Regardless, Vintage Alice is a heartening read of a foreigner’s love for our country. It was also enormous fun to read of London’s Camden markets, funky fashion and fabulous pub and street life. I would recommend Vintage Alice for its decent shot at cultural disparity, for its colourfully painted characters and a fun plot line that chic lit lovers will happily bound along with.
Grab your vintage glad rags and dive on in – the warm Bondi baths are feeling fine.
Vintage Alice by Jessica Adams is published by Allen & Unwin and is available now at bookstores for AU$23.99 (recommended retail price).