“A Change in Fashion” by Susan Gale: a stunning debut novel set in Yorkshire and Paris
“A Change of Fashion” is Susan Gale’s first novel and it’s a stunning debut. This is a heartfelt dramatic story spanning a decade, shifting from winter in England to the sun-drenched Cote d’Azur with well defined characters and evocative settings.
Susan Gale was born in Yorkshire and spent her teenage years in a small market-town at the foot of the Moors. She studied French at University and during the 1960s, experienced a year living and working in France, teaching English.
Those youthful memories of a new, carefree life in Paris must have lingered in the mind. “A Change of Fashion” is not exactly autobiographical, but her travel adventures matched with an interest in design from Biba to Chanel, her passion for fashion is now all perfect material for this fictional tale.
As she explains, “I store up pictures in my head which I draw on whenever I need to describe a place or create an atmosphere.”
They say do not judge a book by its cover. But the simple yet effective black and white image of the iconic Eiffel Tower with the silhouette of a young girl in mini skirt, heels and bobbed hair, represents the novel’s place and period perfectly.
Within a few pages, I was drawn into Holly Barton’s life and times. It’s Paris, 1967. The atmosphere is captured in precise detail, clothes, food, people, the apartment, as are the feelings of this rather naïve young girl – sheer excitement as well as nervous trepidation at the challenges ahead of her, both professional and personal.
“The mousse of asparagus soufflé was delicious, the sole in tarragon and lemon sauce exquisite and the Chateaubriand rich and succulent. White wines from the Loire gave way to deep red Bordeaux…. Throughout the meal she was constantly aware of the eyes opposite her, disconcerting, dancing with amusement at her obvious unease. ..”
The narrative is brilliantly cinematic, in fact expressed through all the senses, as the reader is taken on an emotional, time travel trip. Neatly placed flashbacks take us to rural Yorkshire in the early sixties to Holly’s family home.
“December is one of the darkest periods of her life. During the short hours of daylight the skies periodically blacken to release yet another blinding snowstorm upon the moors. Vast sweeps of white level the landscape …deep drifts block the lane from Black Ridge Farm into the town”.
Then as soon as we are comfortably settled around the Yorkshire moors, we fast forward six years to a front row seat at a Saint-Laurent fashion show:
“Holly could see Diana Vreeland chief editor of Vogue, scribbling furiously in her notebook. Jewel-coloured evening gowns in richly embroidered silks and satins, velvets and brocades followed, each one would make the fortunate wearer feel like royalty.”
Susan Gale must have done extraordinary amount of research to be able to convey the competitive work of the designers, models, fashion shows. I love the authentic “real life” ambience, mentioning Chanel, Dior, Gucci, St. Laurent, et al. The graceful gowns, the cut of a coat, shimmering silk, all come clearly into vision through the words only without a single photograph required.
As well as the backdrop of Parisian’s elite society, another essential part of the plot covers feminism, women’s emancipation for equality and the fight for change in moral attitudes.
For those who love “The Devil Wears Prada”, are fascinated by fashion, past and present, and enjoy a page-turning dramatic love story, this novel is a must read.
Reminiscent of the classic tale of “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier, this has a similar plot where a young, innocent girl has her life turned upside down following a brief encounter, within a rich plot of dark memories and a secret family mystery.
Gale wisely steers clear of “Fifty Shades of Grey” erotic encounters – instead, sexual feelings and quiet moments of intimacy are illustrated with gentle simplicity – to entice your own imagination.
“The time seemed too precious to lie by the pool or on the beach at Cannes. Often they set off to explore the surrounding countryside, driving up tortuous Alpine roads past orchards of peach trees, vineyards and olive groves. .. they ate outdoors in little restaurants where the midday sun shining through the vine leaves overhead dappled their clasped hands on the table-cloth. …..”
Following Holly’s painful, passionate journey from wild windswept Bronte country to the glamorous hot spots of Paris and Monte Carlo, the contrasting locations and enchanting romantic tale would surely make a magical film.
And if you want another opinion, I agree so much with this reader’s verdict.
“ I read this book in only three days – finding it difficult to put it down once I had started. It is written so well you just fall into the world (of fashion), the backgrounds of Yorkshire and Paris, and the lifestyle of the decade. And of course the love story. I can definitely recommend it.”
Publisher – Susan Gale Publishing in conjunction with WRITERSWORLD
Available from all good bookshops and on Amazon.