My rating: 4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars. This is a review of the novel The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazzo.
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Doubleday (May 19, 2015)
Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
Just as New York’s Fashion Week wrapped up last week, I finished reading the entertaining and funny novel The Knockoff, which is set in the modern-day fashion publishing world of New York. Over this past year, The Knockoff itself seems to have been quite a la mode, earning high praise from Vanity Fair, which calls it “the summer’s bitchiest beach read,” and Town and Country, among others. The Knockoff might be considered snarky chick lit, but it’s actually a well crafted book, and worth reading if you like strongly defined characters, the world of fashion, and a yeah, a darn good story.
As with many books these days, I “read” The Knockoff by listening to the audio book edition during my workouts at the gym (see this post about my workout-audio book setup). The Knockoff, set in present-day New York City, is about the unique trials and sometimes hilarious challenges faced by the polished, articulate, successful, and very likable Imogene Tate, an editor at the fictitious popular fashion magazine Glossy.
Because Imogen is a British expat, the talented and British Katherine Kellgren could not have been a better narrator chosen to read the audio version of this novel. Kellgren reads not only Imogen’s words and thoughts in The Knockoff, but also the other characters’ parts, male and female, American and non-American. Kellgren is a deft reader, using her voice, timber, cadence and various accents to convey the emotions and sometimes extreme states of being of the book’s characters, be it frustration, sarcasm, tenderness, fatigue, sadness, anger or insecurity. Kellgren is such a master at her craft that I felt compelled to find out more about her online, and was not surprised to learn that she graduated from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and has won numerous high awards for her audio narration skills. See more about Kellgren in this interesting interview by School Library Journal and in this spotlight feature by AudioFile Magazine. Listening to a well written book narrated by someone as good as Ms. Kellgren is incredibly enjoyable to me—it’s different than me actually reading a good book; rather, it’s reading, theater, and imagination all rolled up into its own unique form of “story time” entertainment.
But I digress…The Knockoff starts off with the attractive, graceful, and hard-working Imogen Tate as she returns to her editor’s position at Glossy after recovering from a mastectomy. Imogen is immediately rattled to find that her former assistant Eve Morton also has returned to Glossy in Imogene’e absence, and that Eve now is something close to being Imogene’s boss. The word intense doesn’t begin to describe Eve, newly graduated from Harvard Business School, who shakes up 40-something Imogen’s world by aggressively pushing Imogen and the magazine to be a techier and more social media-conscious publication. “Tech-bitch” nicely describes Eve, and that label ultimately lingers on Imogene’s and certainly this reader’s lips. But the classy and gracious Imogene bites her tongue, and the reader observes as Imogene wrangles in bewilderment with the intimidating new culture of electronic and social media totally embraced and shoved at her by Eve. The push and pull between Imogen and Eve is engrossing, often comical, and actually very believable, over-the-top though it occasionally is. Is it similar to that other novel and movie about women working in the fashion publishing industry? Certainly there are similarities, but as noted in a blurb on the book jacket, The Knockoff “…makes The Devil Wear Prada look like My Little Pony.”
The younger Eve lacks Imogene’s people skills and poise, while Imogen lacks Eve’s savvy internet and marketing skills, lagging almost to the point of making Imogene obsolete. We see two women working side-by-side at Glossy, each with her own brand of grit and determination, who are expected to unite in their efforts on behalf of Glossy. But the two women’s personalities, agendas, friends, goals, family, backgrounds, ethics, and fashion sense are vastly different. The ensuing conflicts between Imogene and Eve raise thought-provoking questions about how women should do business in this high-tech age, how women should boss and treat their bosses, and how women should learn from those before them while being creative mavericks at the same time. While grounded in a very modern and realistic setting, there’s an almost fable-like, mythic feel to this story, which I believe is one reason for The Knockoff‘s apparent success over the last year. And get this: according to Heatstreet, The Knockoff has been optioned by Disney India for a Bollywood musical adaption in Hindi. Sykes, as quoted in Heatstreet, said “They think it’s a story that every professional Indian woman can relate to. I’ve never been happier—I almost can’t stop these songs going through my head!”
I was a little wary about The Knockoff, because it was written by two authors. I had never knowingly read a co-written novel, and somehow imagined its quality might mimic that of dinner theater, with dinner being mediocre and the theater being even worse. Having never worked with co-authors before, apparently the senior editor at Doubleday had her doubts too. But the partnership of authors Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazzo actually works, and I mean really works. As noted at the book’s own website TheKnockoffBook, Sykes was the fashion director at Marie Claire for six years and now owns her own successful line of children’s clothing. Piazzo is managing editor at Yahoo Travel, is a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal, and has two prior published novels under her probably very stylish belt.
These two women seem to have seamlessly combined their experience and talents into a chic and witty work of fiction. Unlike dinner theater, I would return in a heartbeat for more entertainment from the Sykes and Piazzo author-team.
I read (okay, listened to) The Knockoff entirely by chance, when I overheard my college-aged daughter’s roommate recommending it for a fun summer read. Personally, I’m drawn to not only women’s fashion, but also the world of journalism and publishing (yes, I am a blogger…), so it makes sense that I would dig this novel, set in the world of fashion and journalism. The Knockoff delighted me with its vivid descriptions of meticulously planned photo shoots, legend parties during Fashion Week, and intimate conversations between fashion publishing royalty. But the main reason that I so enjoyed The Knockoff is because there’s a compelling story line with a vividly drawn protagonist and antagonist. That, plus the book is well written…simply, the right words flow with the right rhythm.
If you’re fascinated by the fashion and publishing worlds, you’ll definitely want to read The Knockoff: a great story with memorable characters that will appeal to women of all ages, whether millennials or their mothers.
Based on listening to the audio version of The Knockoff, I highly recommend this novel. My rating: 4 and ½ stars out of 5.
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