Thursday, 30 November 2006

The English Roses, Madonna, 2003

THE ENGLISH ROSES Madonna, illustrated by Jeffrey Pulvimari, Puffin, 2003, 46 pages, hardback, NZ$29.95. ISBN 0 141 38047 0

In ten words: Madonna can sing, can act a little, but can’t write.

To elaborate: celebrities are surrounded by sycophants, become increasingly out of touch with reality, and acquire weird beliefs. Michael Jackson believes he needs plastic surgery. Madonna believes she can write five books for children.

Although the publishers claim The English Roses is for readers “over six”, the five girls are illustrated nearer their teens, mascara-ed and lipstick-ed, catwalk-thin and doe-eyed. (One girl has Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey on her bookshelf, along with Nancy Drew, Little Women and the Wizard of Oz, which dates Madonna nicely but suggests a very weird seven-year-old.)

Four of the girls are pretty and are friends, known as the English Roses. In some rural wonderland they skate together, picnic together, and dance the Vogue (Madonna’s dance) together. They are jealous of Binah who is very pretty (she looks like a young Madonna) but when their fairy godmother shows them that Binah’s mother is dead (like Madonna’s) and she does lots of housework, they become her friends. That’s it. No personalities, no conversations and no plot; just a series of beautiful fashion-plates and an over-cute narrator. It is this last which is important. If Sally Smith had written this book, her manuscript would still be doing the rounds of the publishing houses.

Trevor Agnew

First published in The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand, on October 11th 2003.

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