Culture Street


Lace by Shirley Conran

On September 18, 2012

By Sophia Whitfield

It is hard to ignore a book that is over 700 pages long, has a purple and luscious red front cover and proudly declares itself: THE SCANDALOUS CLASSIC THAT DEFINED AN ERA. Irresistible really!

Back in her heyday Shirley Conran was the EL James of today and Lace the original Fifty Shades of Grey. It has sold more than three million copies in over 35 countries. To mark its 30th anniversary Lace has been rereleased to much fanfare on the back of the recent success of erotic fiction.

Conran’s book follows four friends, Pagan, Maxine, Judy and Kate, from their days in a Swiss finishing school to life as mature women. Each one of them end up working in the glitzy professions of PR, fashion and interior design, the perfect playground for the rich and famous and  they all play! Mature, wealthy men assist the girls in every possible way. Wealth and couture drips off the pages as the girls develop into young astute women who have made a name for themselves through their connections, wealth and, at times, their bodies.

At finishing school the four friends shared a deep dark secret that has tied them together for life. Conran’s story holds interest as she delves into the lives of all four women. The book opens as the four friends sit together in a Manhattan hotel confronted by Lili, a young glamorous star of the screen. “Which one of you bitches is my mother" she asks. Conran then goes back in time taking us through each one of the four friend’s lives as they emerge from girlhood to womanhood.

Lace reads a little like a sex education book, but with a good deal more fun and frivolity thrown in. Conran went to a Swiss finishing school and based her four schoolgirl friends in Lace on girls she had known at school. She states in an afterword that none of the sexual experiences in Lace happened to any of her own friends.

The descriptions of couture, wealth and European high society are particularly appealing. Something Conran, daughter of a dry cleaning baron, knew a thing or two about.

High praise has followed the republication of Conran’s novel. “Lace gave me prolonged pleasure” stated Helen Fielding, the author of Bridget Jones’s Diary. “There was life before Lace and life after Lace, nothing was ever the same again”, claims India Knight. It seems Lace has not lost its lustre. Will the recent deluge of erotic fiction stand such a test of time? Will readers still be talking about Fifty Shades of Grey in 30 years?

Shirley Conran clearly does not approve of the latest phenomenon in erotic fiction offering up her own criticism in a recent interview.

“I think that’s my main issue with Fifty Shades of Grey; you don’t learn anything from it. The heroine is not empowering, Christian Grey’s history is never properly explained, and you have to wait until page 200 until the first spanking with a hairbrush - until page 400 to see her get walloped with a belt. I was interested in the description of the dungeon; but then I’d be interested in a description of Prince Phillip’s bathroom simply because I’ve never been in it.’

Those Swiss finishing schools have a good deal to answer for.


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