Sophia Martelli 

Can We Still Be Friends by Alexandra Shulman – review

British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman eschews glamour and gloss in her gently satirical debut novel, writes Sophia Martelli

It seems appropriate that the first novel by the editor of British Vogue should be set in the 1980s, when the idea that women could "have it all" had its heyday. The story follows the interwoven London lives of three best friends embarking on adulthood in an era of social upheaval, rampant capitalism and burgeoning feminism. Skinny, fearless Salome scores a job as a journalist at the (misogynistic) Herald, while pretty Annie opts for a cosy PR job. Meanwhile Kendra goes against her arty moneyed background – or thinks she does – by undertaking a project engaging underprivileged kids in Kentish Town. Unsuitable men come and go, outfits and interiors are assessed with a professional eye; the reader is lulled into entertaining if predictable chick lit. That is, until Shulman pulls out the harder-hitting storylines – a gay relationship, an abortion and a struggle with alcoholism – all done with empathy and emotional depth.

Rather than running with the glossy glamour of her day job, Shulman's well-executed – and occasionally gently satirical – debut is committed to portraying life in all its contradictory, chaotic, celebratory form. The result? A novel both full of heart and comfortable in its own skin.


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