Author: Jennifer Smart
Bantam Australia RRP $32.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

‘It’s just string bikinis, thongs and boardies on Pretty Beach Rescue. You could do it drunk and standing on your head.’

The Wardrobe Girl, Jennifer SmartIf soap operas and/or chick lit are your thing, look no further than The Wardrobe Girl, for a light-hearted read that combines the two. With a strong film and television background, including five years on the Australian drama Home and Away as a director’s assistant and scriptwriter, author Jennifer Smart is clued in to what happens behind-the-scenes of a typical soapie and uses this to her advantage for her first novel. I am not a regular television viewer (apart from Downton Abbey and My Kitchen Rules when I have the time) so that was not my motivation for reading The Wardrobe Girl; rather, I wanted something light and entertaining to read.The story centres on Tess Appleby (“Apples”, as she is known by cast and crew to her annoyance) as the new wardrobe girl on Australian soapie Pretty Beach Rescue. Her new job is a bit of a step down from working as a costume designer for the BBC in London, but she’s returned to Sydney after her lover was caught cheating, hoping for fresh start. Fresh is how her new workmates see her and from day one, she is fending off practical jokes and the show’s heart-throb, Sean Tyler, a sleazy new boss, and a host of new rules and expectations. The attention she receives is not lost on Sean’s girlfriend, and the show’s other star, Bree Brenner, making for some difficult times for Tess. Adding to the drama is her high-maintenance mother, her annoying sister, Emma … and Jake Freeman, the man she loved and lost eight years earlier. He’s the new director and he might just be the one thing that tips Tess over the edge.

Reading this, I mostly enjoyed the sneak peek at soapie life, and if anything, it made me glad I didn’t have a job like Tess’s (though the clothes would be good). Think television work is glamorous? Think again. Smart’s background was clear and she drew a believable portrait of what goes on behind the scenes, even to the point of including a number of characters struggling with ageing. She neatly set up a situation in which Tess and Jake clearly still had feelings for each other, but through a series of conflicts and miscommunications, and the emergence of unresolved hurts, struggled to work things out. Sean added to the conflict (as did Jake’s girlfriend, who was really quite nice, but was just there); although a leading man on the soapie, Sean’s part in Tess’s story only served to bump up Jake in my estimation. I kept telling Tess to ignore him, but she didn’t listen! I wouldn’t class this as a romance though – it’s more soap opera, what with Tess’s family, work and relationship dramas.

Overall, an easy and fast read, good for those moments when that’s all your brain can handle. It’s relatively predictable (although it did not end on a cliffhanger per true soapie style) … but that hardly matters when chick-lit is what you’re after. This soap opera within a soap opera is a fun way to pass a few hours.

Available from good bookstores and Random House. My copy was courtesy of NetGalley via Random House.

Bookish treat: I munched on a slice of brownie while reading this. I may also have eaten some Allens’s Chocolate Eclair sweets, but I can’t quite remember.




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