Book reviews, Literary fiction

Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell

Three-Martini Lunch is a story about identity, truth and finding yourself – set against the seemingly glamorous backdrop of the publishing world in 1950s New York.

Three-Martini Lunch

What’s it all about?

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

New York, 1958. Cliff Nelson, the privileged son of a New York publisher, is slumming it around Greenwich Village, enjoying booze, drugs and the idea that he’s the next Jack Kerouac.

Fresh-faced Eden Katz arrives in the city with one burning ambition, but she is shocked at the stumbling blocks she encounters.

Miles Tillman, a publisher’s messenger boy, is an aspiring writer who straddles various worlds and belongs to none.

Their choices, betrayals and passions will draw them together and change their lives for ever.

What’s good about it?

Rindell creates wonderfully vibrant and vivid portraits of place in Three-Martini Lunch. New York bursts from the pages; the energy and allure of the Big Apple are perfectly captured and drive the opening chapters forward with pace. The practices of the publishing industry at this time are set up immediately, too – a boys club in which deals are made over smoke-filled, Martini-fuelled lunches – which provides the proceeding narrative with all the context it needs to deliver thoughtful commentary on the operations of that world and their consequences.

The narrative structure of the book is interesting and works well. Cliff, Eden and Miles have first person narratives, with chapters and, sometimes, entire sections of the book devoted to their perspective. This ensures readers are given multi-layered views of key events and are able to collect the subtle revelations placed by Rindell throughout their retellings of the story.

I was most drawn to Eden and believe Three-Martini Lunch is her story. I read this book not long after finishing Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk and there are obvious parallels between the two: both chronicle the attempts of women in 1930s and 1950s New York to break through the phallocentric defences of the advertising and publishing worlds, respectively. Eden develops from a naive young woman looking for her big break to a successful editor who makes a career on her own terms. She is constantly told that she must choose between a career and family life – often in brusque and insensitive interactions with some notable older female characters – but the actions she takes in the course of the novel demonstrate she is able to make sound, moral and decent decisions of her own accord. I really liked Eden and would love to read more detail about her later life.

The male characters are plagued by the sentimentality of their time (their attitudes to women at home and in the workplace particularly jar in the mind of a 21st century reader). They have very few redeeming qualities but are engaging characters nonetheless. Cliff was certainly my least favourite while Miles was the most noble and geniune of the male leads.

What’s not so good about it?

There were times when I felt Rindell spent too long with one character, which made it difficult to maintain the pace and urgency of the previous characters’ predicaments. However, that three-voiced narrative structure was successful overall and this was only a minor distraction.

I think the book would have benefitted from being slightly shorter in order for the action to crescendo earlier and the movement between the characters’ accounts to be slicker.

Three-Martini Lunch is an absorbing book that combines escapism into a glamorous world with an inspiring message about finding your own path. It’s a great read and a novel founded on excellent writing. And, it’s a must-read for editor/publisher wannabes like me!

Thanks to Allison & Busby for my ARC of the book.

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