book Review: The Rise and Fall of Becky Sharp

Reframing the fragility of social class through the constructs of stardom, this modern take on Vanity Fair provides its readers with an intuitive outlook on our attention hungry society. Indeed, chronicling the tribulations of anti-heroine Becky Sharp, The Rise and Fall of Becky Sharp, provides a lighthearted insight into the world of fame and fortune. Sometimes the odds are in your favour; sometimes they are not, yet, everyone must learn the tricks of the trade to survive.

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Being a modern adaptation of William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, this title narrates the trials and triumphs of Britain’s most-“privileged”. Its titular character and, more dominant, antagonist is Becky Sharp; the orphan of an alcoholic con man and suicidal mother. Unlike many of the people encountered in this novel, she has had a difficult start in life. The misfortunes bestowed upon her, however, undoubtedly drive her ambitions for A list status. Gifted with devious wit and a beauty to match, she will do anything to get what she wants, including manipulating anybody that falls in her way.  However, not everyone is as useful to her as she once predicted. In the game of fame, image is everything. So, what secrets lie beneath the surface for these socialites? We all know that what goes up must come down…certainly when Becky Sharp is involved.

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Available to purchase at HarperCollins.

I once saw emblazoned on someone’s twitter feed  “I am sure that if the devil existed, he would want us to feel very sorry for him” . Having been in the midst of finishing Lucifer at the time, I found this quote to be quite perceptive and a somewhat apt synopsis for this title – or at least its titular character. You see, one of the things I loved about this book is that although Becky Sharp is inherently dislikable, she’s also quite relatable. In fact, she is the characterisation of all the worst traits that we see in ourselves; she’s vain; she’s manipulative and she’s downright seductive. Translating the bourgeois proprietary depicted in Vanity Fair into the dog eats dog world of stardom and political fanfare, this book cleverly critiques modern society. Sarra Manning highlights this modern misconception that fame equals money and that social media is synonymous to reality. The tet-e-tet of nature versus nurture runs throughout the narrative, constantly questioning behaviour accountability. Was Becky born bad or is she a product of her tragic upbringing? Of course, though there is a lot to be said about her morality, there is no denying that there is something inspirational about her determination and opportunist mentality. Contrary to the people that she surrounds herself with, there is an authenticity that connotes valour rather than vulgarity. Indeed, in her antiheroism she by default achieves feminist icon status. For, have we not all batted our eyelids occasionally to turn fortunes in our favour?

Nevertheless, whilst I admired the creative license taken by Sara Manning in adapting this tale for a modern audience. At times I felt the language used was a little too contrived to be read as natural dialogue. There were quite a few moments – particularly early on in the book – in which conversations and, even, fame itself felt based on outdated notions. I mean, Big Brother has not been in popular favour for well over a decade. Similarly, the consistent use of colloquial phrases that – to my knowledge – people seldom use, created the effect that these were forced attempts to appear hip and modern. It’s thus comes as no surprise that the overall effect felt a little cheesy. HOWEVER, who doesn’t love a bit of cheese every now and again? Like all great chick lit (not very progressive of me I know), once I’d had a taste, I found myself returning back for more. In fact, I read it in one sitting.

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Ultimately, this title is not for the die hard William Thackeray fans. It is for those readers that whilst harbour a penchant for the classics have a bigger indulgence for la fromage. The literary equivalent of those reality shows it seeks to dissect; this book (while being wholly enjoyable!) was a not-so-guilty pleasure for hours spent by the pool.

3/5

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