Originally published: 26 January 2023
Author: Sarah May
Published by: Picador
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Length: 432 pages
Reading dates: 13-18 January 2023
It’s peak 90s London. Shoulder pads are out, crimped hair is in, supermodels are known by their first names, and Becky Sharp will do anything to escape her past.
From mingling with tabloid millionaires to trading favours and fortunes with royalty, she will stop at nothing to reach the top of the career ladder at the Mercury newspaper. Landing scoop after scoop, Becky ruthlessly carves a place for herself in a society determined to ignore her. These are the biggest stories and scandals of the decade, and she has something to do with every one of them.
But Becky may have more in common with the people she writes about than she thinks – what takes a lifetime to build takes only a moment to destroy . . .
This is the second retelling of Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray I have read but I have still yet to read the original! In this retelling, Becky is from a council estate and grew up with an unstable mum, who, as the book starts has recently died. Being a little inventive on her CV, she manages to get a job as a nanny for newspaper mogul Pitt Crawley, despite having no experience of childcare. Making friends with another nanny, Amelia Sedley, she soon finds herself hanging out with rich young people and before long gets the attention of Pitt and when she is inevitably let go of as a nanny, she gets a job working at his newspaper, doing whatever it takes to be successful, without caring who gets hurt along the way.
Set in the 1990s, the story uses true life events as its inspiration – we have a lover of “The Princess” who is willing to sell his story about their relationship. There is a young girl who goes missing and Becky integrates herself within the family with the promise that her newspaper will help find her but really she relishes the extra copies her paper will sell. There is also reference to phone hacking the missing girls phone.
Other characters from Vanity Fair who make an appearance are George Osborn who also works in journalism and is loved by Amelia and is the occasional sexual partner of Becky, and Rawdon Crawley, Pitt’s son who later becomes Becky’s husband.
Despite Becky’s duplicitous nature, I actually quite liked her. We see her ruthlessness as she claws her way to the top, not caring who gets hurts along the way and I admired her ability to rise to the top of her predominantly sexist and male dominated profession. The story looks back at her upbringing, how she was a talented pianist who wanted better things for herself but had a mum who drank heavily and had multiple partners, and who ruined Becky’s chances of getting a music scholarship at a prestigious school.
A thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable read, with Becky the author gives fresh life to the story of Vanity Fair and I loved it!
Thank you to Book Break and Picador for my gifted proof copy.
About the author:
Sarah May was born in Northumberland, England in 1972. She studied English at London University and Creative Writing at Lancaster University.
Her acclaimed first novel, The Nudist Colony (1999), was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. A bleak, menacing fable set in a violent and corrupt England, the story centres on 14-year-old Aesop and his manipulative mentor. Her second book, Spanish City (2002), is a novel set in a pleasure resort on the north-east coast of England and chronicling the evolution of pleasure across the twentieth century, for which she was jointly awarded a 2001 Amazon.co.uk Writers’ Bursary. The Internationals, set in and around a Macedonian refugee camp during the 1999 Kosovo crisis, was published in 2003. Her fourth novel was The Rise and Fall of the Queen of Suburbia (2006). Her latest book is The Rise and Fall of a Domestic Diva (2008).
Sarah May lives in London.