The Sydney Morning Herald

Emma Young

 

Rudd is not a name associated with chick lit. Political ascendancy followed by an unfair shake of the sauce bottle is brought to mind, but high heels, the sisterhood and romantic mishaps aren’t. One Rudd family member is seeking to diversify the family name.

 

Jessica Rudd, daughter of the former prime minister Kevin Rudd, has done what many ex-lawyers (and lawyers) threaten to do. She has written a novel. The 26-year-old was encouraged, she says, by her “mum’s loving nagging”.

Campaign Ruby is a novel about 28-year-old Ruby Stanhope, an English investment banker who is fired from her job. She protests about her treatment in an email to the bank’s board and drops the word “nincompoops”; the email goes viral and ends up being reported in the Financial Times. Ruby deals with the misfortune by getting drunk and booking a non-refundable ticket to Australia. While others might use the time in the antipodes to relax, Ruby has a narrative to satisfy and is recruited by a man she meets at a party to be a financial policy adviser in a federal political campaign.

 

Chick lit is a prolific genre. Candace Bushnell and Helen Fielding have built sturdy empires on stories of women, mostly single, with romantic and sartorial highs and lows. Since they set the standard, more female writers have followed. Practitioners of this genre can hardly help but echo one another, because while the appeal of these novels is wide the material can be rather narrow. Campaign Ruby tends more towards the Bridget Jones’s Diary side of the spectrum.

 

Rudd, therefore, has some recognisable moments and motifs in her book. The heroine is often in peril in a way that leads to being embarrassed in front of an attractive man, rather than death or injury, and great emphasis is placed on shoes. Warning signs begin when the book jacket advises that Ruby will be “forced to think on her (Louboutin-clad) feet”. These details and challenges to the success of Ruby are plotted in a way that supposedly make it all very relatable, which is indeed the point. There’s something about these novels that is supposed to be very ordinary: a story that every woman can make sense of and nod away to.

 

What isn’t ordinary about this novel is what it says about Australian politics. In Campaign Ruby, the prime minister is pushed out of the top job by a surprise leadership spill. An ambitious female colleague who swiftly makes her pledge at Yarralumla to become the nation’s first female prime minister leads the move. The former prime minister fights through tears to farewell the nation while his wife stands by him with her hand on his back. Rudd has written an uncannily prescient tale anticipating the demise of her father.

 

Rudd’s plot and pacing show a good understanding of what makes a chick-lit novel tick, but there’s one writing technique that grates. She imposes a kind of Cartesian dualism on Ruby, having her better-behaved head frequently intervene in italics to argue with her instincts: “Calm down, Ruby, said my head”; “You should have used double-sided tape, my head contributed”; “You’re in way over me, said my head.”

It’s eminently possible for female authors to write about female characters, or to tell a story through a woman’s voice, and for the book to be interesting to both men and women. Alice Munro is an impeccable example of this, as are Margaret Atwood and Penelope Lively. Campaign Ruby is, however, of the variety about women and for women. It’s a well-crafted story with modest but pleasing ambitions.

 

 

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/campaign-ruby-20100816-125o6.html#ixzz2QDXXlE5A