Publication date: July 3rd 2012
by St. Martin’s Griffin
In Nora Zelevansky’s hilarious debut, Semi-Charmed Life, an Upper West Side naïf, Beatrice Bernstein, gets swept up in the seemingly magical life of socialite Veruca Pfeffernoose, while ghost writing her blog. Veruca’s glitteringly opulent world soon seduces Beatrice away from her own insular, arty family with a promise of fancy parties, travel outside Manhattan (for once) and one desperately cute guy. But when her new glitzy lifestyle starts to take on dark undertones, Beatrice has to decide who she is—once and for all. With her own magical touch, Zelevansky deftly explores the world of rarified Manhattan in this sparkling modern fairy tale of first love, finding one’s voice and growing up.
I absolutely adore New York City. I visited a year ago and I was dazzled by the lifestyle and how it seems to be in its own world. Since, I’ve come to love books set in the Big Apple. I can revive the energy I felt walking the streets, hear the strangely refreshing noise of people living lives like no other, re-experience the city that never sleeps. It’s what compelled me to initially pick this book up, and I was especially pleased with how much the NYC setting came alive. Hence, at the beginning I was actually quite enchanted by it all, staying convinced that I was truly going to enjoy it.
Then… strange writing in her notebook starts to appear and disappear. (What is this book supposed to be? O_O). Then, constant parties with extreme detailing keeps putting me to sleep. Then, talk of tatamis, and beef negimaki, and rogan gosh, and ryokan, and Mark Rothko, and caipirinhas, and remarks that go like: “[…] preach-to-the-choir debates about neo-postmodernism in a postmodern age or the revival of modernism in an antimodernist millenium or ever Fairway belly lox versus Zabar’s nova” …*blinks*… Dude! What am I reading here? I so did not go to Harvard! Name dropping after name dropping, reference after reference; nothing from my generation, and definitely not things a simple small-town Canadian girl in her 20s would know of. Since they would come in bursts I kept hoping it was just to give a feel of NYC, where people can be more elite and talk about fried sopaipillas and Proust studies, unfortunately it never let up and halted my enjoyment of this novel exponentially.
Another big factor in my displeasure of this novel is the writing style the author adopted. Written in a third person omniscient point of view, it’s extremely hard to get a feel of who the characters truly are. It’s not a perspective I have ever really enjoyed as it keeps the characters’ thoughts and the emotions of the story at arm’s length, detached. Think of it like someone who is telling someone else’s story, not letting it be an experience. This is purely a factor of individual taste, some readers may really like this type of telling, but I, for one, am unable to get captured by a story told in this manner.
What starts as a contemporary read suddenly turns on the strange side when mysterious messages start to appear, and simple lofts suddenly become luxurious first class accommodations. I was not expecting anything supernatural from this novel. It caught me off guard and I’m not convinced it really fits in the story. It may give it a magical flair, but it remains off-putting. It’s like Gossip Girl meets the Encyclopedia, meets cameos of Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
There is one positive thing I can mention about this book: The characters are fabulous. Regardless of being kept at arm’s length, I enjoyed the personalities that run through these pages with their exotic natures. There are a lot of names to keep track of, but the ones that are prominent have made this enjoyable enough that, despite having so much trouble getting through the story, I never quit, though at times I really wanted to.
With that said, I think this book calls for a certain readership. An older generation who loves perpetual references and an over the top lavish lifestyle (and vocabulary) may just be the perfect audience for this novel.
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