I’ve always rather enjoyed elections. I think I might have enjoyed a political career, if only there were a party that I could in all conscience join. I get the same buzz out of analysing a closely fought campaign as other people might get from watching well-matched teams fight out a grand final, though the punishing schedule of a Tour de France is closer to the weeks and months of a federal election in Australia.
However you don’t have to be an election tragic to enjoy Jessica Rudd’s new book. It may be set in the drama of elections in Canberra, but it’s chick lit. Chick-lit for career women; for those with an interest in current affairs; and for anyone interested in what goes on behind the scenes, behind the 10-second news grab and behind the polished performances we see in the media. As the blurb tells us, it’s Bridget Jones on the campaign trail, and it’s as funny as Bridget Jones’s Diary is said to be.
I haven’t read Helen Fielding’s book, but I saw the hilarious film starring Renée Zellweger instead. Campaign Ruby is actually the first chick-lit I’ve ever read – and will probably be the last - but I enjoyed it. It is so well-written that it manages to transcend the silliness of the genre to become an entertaining insight into modern politics in Australia.
My first piece of research to write this review was to check out the Louboutin shoes which matter so much to Ruby, an investment banker and fashionista of London. For the uninitiated, the shoe-designer Christian Louboutin was inspired to design these extraordinary stilettos when he saw a sign banning sharp stilettos in a museum because of the damage they do to wooden flooring. Wikipedia tells me that he ‘wanted to defy that … to create something that broke rules and made women feel confident and empowered.’ Why women should feel empowered by tottering along on shoes which will give them endless foot trouble in their old age and preclude running for a bus I do not know; it seems to me to be more empowering to put the price of a pair of these shoes towards buying some shares, but perhaps Ruby the investment banker knows more about investing than I do?
Anyway, thanks to an intemperate email that goes viral, Ruby’s career runs into strife in London, and she (minus the Laboutins) comes to the Land of Oz to catch up with her aunt and lie low for a while. Australia is actually the last place she intended to be: she can’t even remember how she came to buy the one-way non-refundable ticket but it has something to do with drowning her sorrows with far too much Victorian Pinot Noir. Fate intervenes when she attends a party at a Yarra Valley winery, and she ends up working as a financial policy adviser to the Federal Leader of the Opposition. This is where the story begins to have eerie resonances with the recent shenanigans in Canberra. The plot centres around a prime minister deposed by his female offsider, the public indignation caused by that, and the opposition leader who wants to capitalise on the mayhem when he isn’t really ready for office. (This is signalled by the fact that he hires Ruby on a whim – to advise him at the last minute, of all things – on economic policy). In the light of recent events here, it could be seen as a fable about the perils of intemperate ambition.
The book was released earlier than scheduled and launched in the final days before Australia’s real election – which followed the replacement of the author’s father, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd by his deputy Julia Gillard. In Dymocks, Campaign Ruby was selling at a discount price, presumably because they think its time in the sun will be brief. That would be a pity. Jessica Rudd writes very well - this is an entertaining book and it should outlast the current political situation. Ruby’s adventures have the authenticity of one who knows Australian politics well, but are laugh-out-loud funny.
Her first of many predicaments in Australia is that her luggage goes missing, and fashionista though she is, she has no time to buy replacement clothes because of the 24/7 demands of the campaign trail. It is this aspect of the book that really intrigued me, but Rudd’s touch is deft and the comedy ensures that the book will interest others less interested in politics and media management. For Ruby inflicts one disaster after another on herself, only briefly demoralised by her own folly. There are imprudent decisions about men in the media, wardrobe malfunctions and blunders with microphones but Ruby ploughs on regardless because after all, she’s a career woman and she has to work…
I won’t be surprised if Campaign Ruby is optioned by Hollywood. Transposed to the White House cast with Obama/Clinton rivalry and Ruby as a stop-gap intern, this book would make a very entertaining movie. There’s an interview with Jessica Rudd at Fancy Goods.
P.S. Apart from some minor editing necessitated by the early release of this book, this review was written four weeks before the 2010 federal election results, just after the election campaign started. The original embargo date was August 30th, but the book was released before that to take advantage of interest in the election. I decided to stick with the original embargo date because I don’t want to attract political commentary on my blog, especially not in the heat of a closely fought election or its peculiar aftermath.
Author: Jessica Rudd
Title: Campaign Ruby
Publisher: Text Publishing 2010
Source: Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of Text Publishing.
or direct from Text.