“The Age of Spectacle” by Tom Dyckhoff, a British architecture critic, is the story of the transformation of cities from the dense manufacturing hubs of the early 20th century to the consumerist meccas they are today. He begins with Jane Jacobs and Ruth Glass, two social scientists who spotted that middle-class youngsters in 1960s London were refusing to move to the suburbs as their parents had done. This was driven both by the “stifling conformism” of life on the outskirts, and, according to Raphael Samuel, a historian, by a love of “values inherent to the dense, historic city, whether its aesthetic form, its layers of history, its ability to somehow encourage neighbourliness or its sheer excitement.” Mr Dyckhoff notes the casual manner in which Ms Glass defines this behaviour as “gentrification”, identifying a movement which he believes became “the most significant force in Western cities in the second half of the 20th century”.
“Emily Post” still conjures up images of persnickety debutantes in twinsets and pearls. But Lizzie and Dan are as far from that mold as you could imagine. Like most denizens of Burlington, they have more than a little hippie in them. He studied mime in Paris; she drives around town with her border collie, Benny, on the passenger side and has the fur-coated seat cover to prove it. He resembles a less beaky version of the young John Updike; she is a tall, ebullient woman with a honey-blond mane. “I don’t like being pegged with the image a lot of people associate with etiquette,” Lizzie said, an image she sums up as “Stepford wives.” Yet, here they are in 2017, charged with the task of shepherding the Post brand into a cultural moment that can seem downright hostile to the very idea of good manners.
Language is not class-segregated. It is not a tool issued by nobility for use only when strictly necessary. Any character can be written in a complex style as well as in the crude vernacular. And the crude vernacular can be as beautiful, expressive and important as classic texts and experimental prose.
Long after your chance has gone to make it as a professional gymnast, ballerina or violinist, there is and always still the chance to write your book. And here comes a debut novel discovered through a writing competition, by an author in her 40s, which has sold for huge sums worldwide. It does happen.
And what a joy it is.