In brief: Tess returns home from London, tail between her legs, to work on the soap Pretty Beach Rescue. In between annoying sisters, amorous stars and ex-boyfriends, can she get her life together?
The good: Loved the behind the scenes aspect of a soapie.
The not-so-good: More chick lit than romance – if you’re after chick lit, you’re in for a good story.
Pages: 384 (eARC)
Publisher: Bantam Australia
My rating: 8 out of 10
Growing up, I adored watching Home and Away (weeknight soapie in Australia). The fictional town of Summer Bay on the beach, where it never rained (unless a disaster was required for ratings) looked like the perfect place to be. I didn’t really think about the hard work that was required behind the scenes to produce a lot of television (five half-hour episodes a week). Later on, I read a fictional YA book by a star of Home and Away, Isla Fisher, called Seduced by Fame. This book introduced me to the scandals, seduction and spats off screen in the soapie world and I realised I enjoyed that even more than watching the show! Hence I was attracted to The Wardrobe Girl as author Jennifer Smart has worked on Home and Away and I bet she’s seen a lot!
The Wardrobe Girl takes a different slant on things by having its star, Tess, working on wardrobe rather than being an actor. This was refreshing, as wardrobe really wasn’t something I’d thought about too much before! Tess is the offspring of a renowned Australian actress and acclaimed international director, but she’s not interested in cashing in on their fame. She’s even changed her name so nobody makes the link. After several years living it up on BBC costume dramas, a messy break up sees Tess flee back to Australia and live with her mother and sister. If that isn’t bad enough, she’s got a supporting job in wardrobe on Aussie soap Pretty Beach Rescue where one actor takes an inappropriate interest in her and to top it off, her first love Jake (another messy breakup) returns as a director. Gossip and innuendo race through the cast and crew and it’s not long before Tess finds herself in the tabloids. Will she hook up with the actor? Will she ever admit her feelings to Jake? Will Tess ever get it together?
What I liked about this book is that the romance wasn’t in the spotlight. Tess is pretty messed up when it comes to boys, so she really needed to take some time out and sort through family dramas and her own issues. I’d say this book is more about Tess’s growth and coming of age, even though it is quite a bumpy (but funny) ride! I loved reading about the spats between actors and the impossibilities of finding a killer shark prop at short notice, in addition to Aussie TV’s night of nights, The Logies. (That section was so full of drama that I’ve resolved to never stay at Crown Melbourne on that night). I think Smart documented Tess’s growth as a person very well – I didn’t see the big change coming, but I liked that everything wasn’t all bundled up perfectly. It showed that both Tess and life aren’t perfect, but it resolved enough of the plot threads so that the reader wasn’t left wondering. The division of the chapters into days, settings and location (internal/external) was also clever to reflect a real script.
The characters were done well – Tess’s family in particular were cleverly drawn and unique. I would have liked to see more to the actress character of Bree, because she hated Tess so much. She seemed a little clichéd, but that also could have just been her (I had the feeling that Bree was quite insecure and shallow). The other actors and crew were funny and unique – with a supporting cast of so many (which Smart says she has condensed further from real life); it could have been difficult to distinguish them all. I had no trouble, as they all had great quirks and nicknames (Snape-boy, anyone?)
A solid debut by Jennifer Smart – I’d happily read more of her work.