Deja lu

Fame Fatale

Wendy Holden <em>Headline, 378pp, £10</em>

ISBN 0747272514

Beware, all you fluffy young women novelists: Wendy Holden is out for your blood. Or is she? In Fame Fatale, her fourth novel, this scourge of socialites, celebrities and snobs at last turns her attention to publishing. The book opens with a feud between "two of the best selling young female writers in the country": Jenny Bristols (no relation, alas), the author of Airhead and Braindead, bickers with Sassy Jenks, the acclaimed author of Shooting Up, a work of gritty realism about "life as a teenager on a south London sink estate", which has been nominated for the Lemon Prize. The chick-lit spat is witty, apposite, and you wish there was more of it in the rest of the book.

The best thing about Holden's fiction is that it is bitingly funny, but never pretentious. She revels in being lightweight, and enjoys caricature and bad puns. But you sometimes think Holden's work could be funnier if she changed a bit more scenery, or gave her characters a bit more depth. That she does not is this novel's, well, flaw fatale.

The central character here is the unassuming Grace Armiger, who has a thankless job in publicity for the struggling literary publisher Hatto & Hatto. Grace is sweet, sympathetic and a little bit silly - prone to overreacting and being trodden upon. While Bristols and Jenks bitch amusingly on the sidelines, the main story concerns Grace's encounters with vain journalists, lobotomised socialites and one nice guy - in other words, the kind of caricatures we have met before. And in one case, it is exactly the same character we have met before, because who should bounce up but Champagne D'Vyne, the chest-heavy, brains-light society girl who appears throughout Holden's oeuvre? Champagne famously lies on her back to land on her feet, and consequently dominates the lives of everybody working in or around the media. She was fun the first time round, but the trouble is that her absence of wit or charm eventually reveals her dishwater qualities.

There are some amusing archetypes: Belinda Black, the wannabe celebrity journalist whose obsession with getting ahead blinds her to the real stories, is great in the character of the kind of girl you love to hate. But the columnist in Pastures Nouveaux also suffered from this vanity-induced journalistic myopia, so we feel like we've been here before, too.

Fame Fatale is, like all Holden's books, great for the beach, the bath or the commuter train. But first-time Holden readers will probably enjoy it most. Her fans could be forgiven for experiencing deja vu. Or even, wait for it, deja lu.

Jennie Bristow is commissioning editor of Spiked, www.spiked-online.com