Not averse to the odd bit of Chick Lit, I picked up ‘Techbitch’ by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza on a whim at my local library. The cover sticker that declared ‘You’ll love this if you loved The Devil Wears Prada’ had my intrigued. I was a strange reader who actually didn’t love Devil when I first read it, but it did grow on me and by the time the film was released, I was a fully paid up member of the That’s All cult. Piqued by the notion of two authors and in the mood for a glossy bubblegum read based in NYC’s fashion scene, I borrowed the book.
In a nutshell, ‘Techbitch’ covers the experience of central character Imogen as the magazine she runs is updated and transformed into an app, to make it more competitive in the digital age. To her initial bemusement and later horror, Imogen’s old assistant, Eve, is hired to pioneer the viral aspects of fashion title ‘Glossy’. Eve is a Mark Zuckerberg cum Satan figure, forcing programmers, product managers and various social media entrepreneurs (as well as other job titles from Generation Y) to work 24 hour shifts, sleep in pods in the office, and employ various Tech City / Silicon Valley behaviours to make the app happen. The novel charts Imogen’s navigation of both old and new as she manages the ‘Old’ New York, more traditional fashion legends, and becomes more au fait with the twenty first century fashionista sets and an entire section of recent graduates who live with their parents whilst building their own apps, social media sites, or blogs, with a view to being the Next Big Thing.
Despite its two authors, and a strong effort from the more than capable team at Penguin, in keeping the tone light, flighty and wholly ‘chick’, Techbitch falls slightly flat. The dialogue lacks the snappy witticisms one usually expects in this category, and New York itself is mentioned in quiet lines, rather than the usual grand celebrations we’ve come to expect from books set in Manhattan. When Imogen throws a townhouse party during New York Fashion Week, the entire setting and metropolis buzz is painfully absent.
It’s a bold Editor and Publicity Director that would sanction an overt cover sticker to put a book on par with TDWP, and here such chutzpah is unwarranted. Even on my first rather lukewarm reading of Devil, I knew it had promise and a sense of zing to it. When the film was due for release, I had faith in its potential because the source material had a quality of sharp comedy and (to me) the sort of importance that goes on to impact groups of female friends so they end up dropping quotes from it for years to come. ‘No no, that wasn’t a question.’
Techbitch is mildly entertaining, but as we all experience increasing demands on our time, when I indulge in chick lit, I expect a greater escape than this particular novel offered. I wanted to be transported to the characterful Planet Fashion, replete with divas, obsessive designers and over eager young reporters. Instead, Techbitch offered up a plate of rather flaccid bit players. There is an attempt to capture the Tech generation (mainly by replicating their emails/ texts / tweets) in the prose, highlighting excessive punctuation, anacroynms or emoticons; but it all feels a bit intentional and brutally self-conscious. Equally, the inability of the hired assistants at Glossy.com to stand up to Eve’s hugely excessive demands was hard to believe. Yes, we live in a world of twenty-somethings who declare themselves entrepreneurs and pioneers, but that doesn’t mean they are devoid of backbone and self-determination. In many respects, Techbitch patronises that particular demograph in a way that’s creatively irresponsible.
And that brings me on to legacy. For Techbitch, it’s not much unfortunately. Maybe the book can lay claim to capturing a familiar moment in many newspapers and magazines between 2000 and 2010, but for me, it will remain a chick lit I read and will struggle to remember in six months. Perhaps those who have had some direct experience in fashion media may find Techbitch offers something more resonant – so do give it a go if that’s your cup of tea.
It is likely of course that at least one of the Techbitch authors is an ex-editor and the book is based upon her direct experience of modernised magazines, but aside from that tenuous link (which I’m assuming – it’s not made explicit), it’s tricky to claim that Techbitch holds the notes of controversy that could let it stand out in the Chick Lit category. It’s not that Techbitch is a ‘bad’ book, but in a field as competitive as this one, it does risk being a little too average for my particular taste.
One major feather in its cap is the breadth of issues raised. In a number of moments, main character Imogen does have ‘thoughts’ that prompted me to reflect a little on my own life. These points included how much access children should have to the internet, the merits of paying over the odds to live in a city, and made me question my own capabilities with social media and web campaigns. For a Chick Lit book to tap into wider topics, kudos should be given.
All in all, whilst Techbitch is a good yarn, it falls just shy of the mark as a classic chick lit novel in the spirit of Devil or Bridget. A lack of set pieces and writing less textured than competing candidates in the genre hold it back. It’s a solid first effort from this pair of authors however, and I’m sure we’ll hear more from them in the future.