|Grace: A Memoir / Grace Coddington
New York: Random House, c2012.
Don't be misled by the size of this book -- although it's 416 p., that's 400+ pages of wide margins, lovely little sketches done by Grace, and pretty easy reading.
I wanted to love this book. And I did love the first half. The story of her childhood could be a book in its own right. It was dreamy and lovely and extremely intriguing. Then she heads off to London at 18 to become a fashion model. She succeeds, despite a disfiguring car crash early on, bad relationships, and more. Most of the second half of the book is about her movement in the fashion world -- names, companies, photographers, various boyfriends/husbands, working for different bosses and then Anna Wintour. The route her career took is a bit unusual, and the minutiae of daily life in this high fashion world is very different to anything familiar to me. I was interested in all this; if you're not into the everyday of fashion magazines, it might grow a bit wearing for you as a reader.
One thing that caught me right away was the entertaining chapter headings, in the style of 19th century writers, ie: Chapter One: in which a young girl leaves home etc etc. I don't have the book with me so it's not exactly that but has the same phrasing -- and each one is pretty much a summary of the chapter so you could easily skim through it just with chapter headings.
I thought that the addition of her quirky, individual sketches was a great idea, as she says herself that she is a visual person, not a word person (and says that she's only read 2 books as an adult - can't relate!) . But this is also the downfall of the book -- the lack of facility with words and storytelling structure. There are ellipses in her story; things happen but we're not sure why or what she learned from them; weight is given to slight stories and more serious and devastating events are mentioned in passing. There's a sense that she is quite private and didn't want to tell-all in this memoir. So why a memoir at all? The most emotional truth and sense of narrative is definitely in the beginning, before she leaves home.
Unfortunately, she doesn't take this opportunity to reflect much on Fashion as a business, or the demands made on women in this profession. She seems to take it all at face value for the most part, and not question much about the expectations of this world around physical appearance or work loads.
So, while I enjoyed it overall, I'm also glad that I got it from the library, and was able to enjoy the parts that were engaging and skim over the parts that were not (a chapter on her cats and her cat psychic??). I still enjoy Vogue and following fashion, but I don't think we can expect great literature from this venue.