Emma and Clementine are two best friends in their late twenties who are juggling their hectic work and personal lives while still trying to pursue their dreams in London. Emma’s true calling is being a writer, validated by the growing number on the blog she keeps, but she is stuck at a menial corporate job at an advertising firm to pay her bills. Clementine has recently returned from studying screenwriting in New York and is now temporarily staying at her parents’ house, something that her siblings never let her forget. She is coming to terms with the reality that despite her foreign education, she is barely eligible for anything other than bar work. Emma and Clem share their personal and professional grievances with each other over pints while secretly envying the other’s life.
Berry manages to capture the essence of characters that have been brought up on boundless optimism and are just beginning to realize that dreams alone cannot sustain them. Both Emma and Clem are at that critical juncture in adulthood where they have to make a tradeoff between following their ambition and being practical about their resources. This is a very realistic portrayal of millennials caught between conflicting ideals – following their passions and maintaining an upper-class lifestyle. Modern life in London is vividly brought to life from cringe-worthy encounters, crippling housing crisis to weird hen-dos.
In the last year or so novels about unsettled and imperfect female protagonists, particularly those exploring adolescent friendships between girls, have been all the rage. What I liked about this book was how it dealt with the enduring friendships of grown women at the end of their twenties and the integral part old friends play at this stressful stage of life. Berry depicts the interesting dynamics between Emma, Clem and their frenemy, Yasmin, with disarming insight and wit.
The most entertaining sections of the book are Emma’s workplace stories full of the barrage of work emails filled with diplomatic, passive-aggressive rules and the complex workplace politics. This book is full of mortifying run-ins and awkward situations which will seem all too familiar to any working woman on the cusp of entering her thirties. Berry has her fingers on the pulse of contemporary culture and satirizes everything from the minds behind the hip ‘quirky’ magazines to superfluous corporate jargon. The protagonists can seem a bit whiny at times, especially since they do spend an awful lot for people with meagre earnings, but the hilariously candid and snarky writing makes this razor-sharp debut a winner.
Living the Dream was published by Virago on 6 July 2017