Monday, June 27, 2011

In Review: New York by Lily Brett

The book jacket describes Lily Brett’s 2001 book, New York as a “…wry collection of pieces,” about New York City; a city that has “…entertained, inspired and perplexed her for the decade she has lived there in a SoHo loft apartment.”

The daughter of Jewish holocaust survivors, Lily Brett was born in Germany and moved to Australia (with her parents) in 1948. In 1989 she moved to New York City with her artist husband, David Rankin. At just 156 pages, this collection of fifty-two essays offers short vignettes about New York City, that seek to illuminate and throw light onto life, in arguably, America’s most exciting metropolis.

It occurred to me that New York would make a fine companion piece to the highly successful television series, Sex And The City, since so many of Lily’s essays deal with relationships, fashion, women, personal appearance, marriage, plastic surgery, ageing, celebrity hairdressers, and yes – sex.

What I enjoyed most about Lily Brett’s New York was trying to see how much I could identify about the city based on my own two visits there in 2008, and again in 2010.

Her piece on Chinatown, called appropriately enough, Chinatown, captures the hustle and bustle of that New York neighborhood, and the shock and discomfort many people experience when first encountering the live fish, frogs and crustaceans waiting to be turned into meals of endless variety on nightly dinner tables.

In several essays she seems to lament the demise of the old New York. A city that was more reminiscent of Martin Scorcese’s Mean Streets, or even worse, Taxi Driver. A city bathed in low light, high crime, graffiti and poverty. Of course, all these aspects of New York are still there, though thankfully nowhere near as prevalent as they once were. Ultimately, Brett’s various neuroses leave her grateful that the bad old days alluded to above are for the most part gone, and I can only agree with her regarding this.

According to Lily Brett’s website, the 52 essays that make up New York were originally commissioned as weekly columns for the German newspaper Die Zeit. This accounts for their short length of just over two pages each. As a result, New York, can be read in a matter of hours, and while it doesn’t offer any major insights into the America psyche, it certainly offers many insights into Brett’s mind. So much so, that I couldn’t help thinking, as I read New York, that it would be fascinating to eavesdrop on a conversation between her and Woody Allen. One gets the feeling they might have a lot in common, with both apparently revelling in their neuroses, Jewish heritage, hypochondria, and their love/hate relationship with the Big Apple.

New York is an entertaining, albeit short and easily read collection of New York City observations, and is worth seeking out if you are planning a trip to this amazing city.

Unfortunately, New York appears to be out of print in its English language edition, although there are second-hand copies available on Amazon. Be aware though that there is also a German language edition currently available via Amazon. New York is available as a download for Amazon’s Kindle eReader, and may eventually be available in other eReader formats as well. Your best bet might be to visit your local second-hand book shop and see if they have a copy on their shelves.

Paperback: 156 pages
Publisher: Picador (January 2001)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0330362453
ISBN-13: 978-0330362450


Lily Brett has written numerous other books and a range of these presented below. As always, you can purchase these directly via Amazon.Com.
You Gotta Have Balls: A Novel Uncomfortably Close: A Novel Too Many Men : A Novel

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