Party girls die in pearls – Plum Sykes

Many thanks to Bloomsbury India for sending me this copy in exchange of an honest review

First day at college. Can anything ever recreate that excitement of stepping onto a campus, wearing your most fashionable togs, and looking forward to all the real and imaginary experiences you believe will surely come your way here? Ah! The naivety and optimism of youth. When that college is Oxford, a name that is mentioned in one way or another in possibly every English novel ever written, I shudder to imagine the dizzying levels of adrenaline-induced happiness fog that must cloud the brains of the poor dears who have the great fortune to begin in that prestigious institution.

To begin at  the beginning, I love the cover. It is wonderfully retro, with the right mix of Audrey Hepburn charm and some mysterious drama rolled into it –  what with the cracked glass and all. The red background sets it off to perfection preparing one for the flamboyant fashion world of the eighties. Oh, shoulder pads! Pouffed hair! Complete disregard for color combinations! Yes, those were the days. When Plum Sykes begins describing the clothes in detail I will swear to feeling actual shudders of sympathy for that generation. And yet they were so blissfully happy. Simple times.

Ursula Flowerbutton (what a name) has just stepped onto the haloed grounds of the Oxford campus in 1985 and is suitably thrilled. The first person she encounters is the exuberant and utterly fashionable foreign exchange student, Nancy Feingold. They strike up an instant friendship, which is further cemented when they are allotted next door apartments. They meet other girls and boys and are introduced with mind-boggling speed to the pleasures and pains of  life at college, all in the space of one week.

Plum Sykes has managed to create just the correct blend of English atmosphere in this book (or at least what we perceive to be English atmosphere). First, the British class system that manifests itself in some form of other in almost every aspect of the college life -from the hot and much envied ‘Champange set’, to the men and women with their ‘Blues’, to the all-male clubs hogging the attention of every newcomer. Second, the inability of succumbing to hysteria when faced with a dead body. Third, the wonderful wonderful nicknames, the picking of which only British schoolboys seem to have mastered. And, last but not the least, the incessant partying. How anyone ever managed to get any work done there is a mystery when one reads the daily routine the author has mapped out for these kids. And they are kids, although I keep thinking of them as adults in their mid twenties or so. They seem too mature to be just out of their teens.

Ursula Flowerbutton is an unconventional heroine and Nancy an even more unconventional sidekick. To think that a fresher would embark on a murder investigation in the first week of her joining college all to write an article for the college newspaper, even if that college is Oxford, seems a lit far-fetched when you think back on it. And yet, while you are reading the book you accept that it is thus. Horatio, a friend the girls acquire, in his mauve ensembles is harder to place comfortably in the category of friend or foe, although he is a veritable font of information (read gossip). He is a second year spending all his time with these freshers and seems to have nothing good to say about all the people he has known for the past couple of years.

Never having been a big fan of retro fiction, I am now having to review my taste buds once again. Plum Sykes writes a fast paced, energetic read with beautiful background imagery right from the clothes to the scenery to the mannerisms of the times. Her own name is so wonderfully ambiguous, I had to read her biography  to find out her gender. Her writing is funny with quite a few sentimental moments sewn in, with some very adorable characters. Having said that, this is definitely a chick-lit, cozy British mystery, romantic comedy category and must be taken as such.

The blurb calls this a Clueless meets Agatha Christie offering, but I beg to differ. Clueless was too pink and too over the top sweet and Agatha Christie is just too much of a genius. I would say Bridget Jones meets Nancy Drew is more apt. Bridget Jones for the satire, the humour and the unapologetic optimistic take on life and Nancy Drew for her chums, her need to get things done, her ease of getting away with things and her tendency of falling unnecessarily and repeatedly into scraps (read mysteries).

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