The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
Rating: • (Read only if your interest is strong)
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Lauren Weisberger’s debut novel, The Devil Wears Prada, presents a catchy title, unappealing characters, some funny lines, a lot of pathos and creates too much ennui in a reader. Part of the genre of The Nanny Diaries, The Devil Wears Prada presents a fictional account of worklife the author may or may not have experienced first hand. (Weisberger was an assistant to a Vogue editor). The novel presents the odd relationship between a demanding boss (Miranda) and her new assistant, Andrea. The boss is the devil, and doesn’t even make an appearance until page 100, in this excerpt from the chapter, “When Miranda Arrives at the Office” (pp. 100-107):
"Andrea! She's on her way in. She'll be here in ten minutes," Emily announced loudly, obviously struggling to remain calm.
"Hmm? I'm sorry, I didn't hear what—"
"Miranda is on her way into the office this moment. We need to get ready."
"On her way into the office? But I thought she wasn't even coming back to the country until Saturday . . ."
"Well, clearly she changed her mind. Now, move! Go downstairs and get her papers and lay them out just the way I told you. When you're done, wipe down her desk and leave a glass of Pellegrino on the left-hand side, with ice and a lime. And make sure that her bathroom is stocked, OK? Go! She's already in the car, so she should be here in less than ten minutes, depending on traffic."
As I raced out of the office, I could hear Emily rapid-fire dialing four-digit extensions and all but screaming, "She's on her way—tell everyone." It took me only three seconds to wind through the hallways and pass through the fashion department, but I already heard panicked cries of "Emily said she's on her way in" and "Miranda's coming!" and a particularly blood-curdling cry of "She's baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!"
Assistants were frantically straightening clothes on the racks that lined the halls, and editors were racing into their offices, where I could see one changing from her kitten-heeled shoes to four-inch stilettos while another lined her lips, curled her lashes, and adjusted her bra strap without so much as slowing down. As the publisher walked out of the men's room, I glanced past him and saw James, looking frenzied, checking his black cashmere sweater for lint while spastically popping Altoids in his mouth. Unless the men's room was wired with loudspeakers for these very occasions, I wasn't even sure how he'd heard yet.
I was dying to stop and watch the scene unfold, but I had less than ten minutes to prepare for my first meeting with Miranda as her actual assistant, and I wasn't going to blow it. Until then I'd been trying not to appear as if I'd been actually running, but upon witnessing the utter lack of dignity everyone else had demonstrated, I broke into a sprint.
"Andrea! You know Miranda's on her way here, don't you?" Sophy called from the reception desk as I flew by.
"Yeah, I know, but how do you know?"
"Sweetie pie, I know everything. Now I suggest you get your butt in gear. One thing's for sure: Miranda Priestly does not like to be kept waiting."
I leapt onto the elevator and called out a thank you. "I'll be back in three minutes with the papers! "
The two women on the elevator stared at me in disgust, and I realized that I had been screaming.
"Sorry," I said, trying to catch my breath. "We just found out that our editor in chief is on her way to the office and we weren't prepared, so everyone's a little edgy now." Why am I explaining myself to these people?
"Ohmigod, you must work for Miranda! Wait, let me guess. You're Miranda's new assistant? Andrea, right?" The leggy brunette flashed what must've been four dozen teeth and moved forward like a piranha.
Her friend instantly brightened.
"Um, yeah. Andrea," I said, repeating my own name as though I wasn't entirely sure it was mine. "And yes, I'm Miranda's new assistant."
At that moment the elevator hit the lobby and the doors opened to the stark white marble. I moved ahead of the women and bolted through before the doors had opened entirely and heard one of them call, "You're a lucky girl, Andrea. Miranda's an amazing woman, and a million girls would die for your job! "
I tried not to slam into a group of very unhappy-looking lawyers, and nearly flew into the newsstand in the corner of the lobby, where a little Kuwaiti man named Ahmed presided over a sleek display of glossy titles and a noticeably sparser array of mostly sugar-free candy and diet sodas. Emily had introduced Ahmed and me to each other before Christmas as part of my training, and I was hoping he could be enlisted to help me now.
"Stop right there!" he cried as I began pulling newspapers out of their wire racks by the register. "You are Miranda's new girl, right? Come here."
I swiveled to see Ahmed lean down and ferret under the register, his face turning a bit too red under the strain. "Ah-ha!" he cried again, springing to his feet with all the agility of an old man with two broken legs. "For you. So you don't make a mess of my display, I keep them aside for you each day. And maybe to make sure I don't run out, too."
"Ahmed, thank you. I can't even tell you how much this helps me. Do you think I should get the magazines now, too?"
"I sure do. Look, it's already Wednesday and they all came out on Monday. Your boss probably don't like that so much," he said knowingly.
And again he reached under the register and again he rose with an armful of magazines, which, after a quick glance, I confirmed were all the ones on my list—no more, no less.
ID card, ID card, where the hell was that goddamn ID card? I reached inside my starched white button-down and found the silk lanyard that Emily had fashioned for me out of one of Miranda's white Hermes scarves. "Never actually wear the card when she's around, of course," she had said, "but just in case you forget to take it off, at least you won't be wearing it on a plastic chain." She had practically spit out the last two words.
"Here you go, Ahmed. Thank you so much for your help, but I'm in a big, big rush. She's on her way in."
He swiped my card down the reader on the side of the machine and placed the scarf lanyard around my neck like a lei. "Run, now. Run!"
I grabbed the overflowing plastic bag and ran, pulling my ID card out again to swipe against the security turnstiles that would allow me to enter the Elias-Clark elevator bank. I swiped and pushed. Nothing. I swiped and pushed again, this time harder. Nothing.
"Some boys kiss me, some boys hug me, I think they're okay-ay," Eduardo, the round and slightly sweaty security guard, began singing in a high-pitched voice from behind the security desk. Shit. I already knew without looking that his smile, conspiratorial and enormous, demanded again—as it had every single day for the past few weeks—that I play along. It seems he had a never-ending supply of annoying tunes that he loved to sing, and he wouldn't let me through the turnstiles until I acted them out. The day before was "I'm Too Sexy." As he sang, "I'm too sexy for Milan, too sexy for Milan, New York and Japan, " I had to walk down the lobby's imaginary runway. It could be fun when I was in a decent mood. Sometimes it even made me smile. But it was my very first day with Miranda, and I couldn't be late getting her things set up, I just couldn't. I wanted to hurt him for holding me up as everyone else breezed past the security desk in the turnstiles on each side of me.
"If they don't give me proper credit, I just walk away-ay, " I muttered, allowing the words to stretch and fade, just like Madonna.
He raised his eyebrows. "Where's the enthusiasm, girifriend?"
I thought I'd do something violent if I heard his voice again, so I dropped my bag of papers on the counter, threw both arms up in the air and thrust my hips to the left, while pursing my lips into a dramatic pout. "A material.' A material! A material! A material. . . WORLD!"], all but screamed, and he cackled and clapped and whoosh! He buzzed me through.
Mental note: Discuss with Eduardo when and where it is appropriate to make a complete ass of me. Once again, I dove onto the elevators and raced past Sophy, who kindly opened the doors to the floor without my even asking. I even remembered to stop in one of the minikitchens and put some ice in one of the Baccarat goblets we kept in a special cabinet over the microwave just for Miranda. Glass in one hand, newspapers in another, I peeled around the corner and smashed directly into Jessica, a.k.a. Manicure Girl. She looked both annoyed and panic-stricken.
"Andrea, are you aware that Miranda is on her way to the office?" she asked, looking me up and down.
"Sure am. I've got her newspapers right here and her water right here, and now I just need to get them back to her office. If you'll excuse me..."
"Andrea!" she called as I ran past her, an ice cube flying out of the glass and landing outside the art department. "Remember to change your shoes! "
I stopped dead in my tracks and looked down. I was wearing a pair of funky street sneakers, the kind that weren't designed to do anything but look cool. The rules of dress—unspoken and otherwise—were obviougly relaxed when Miranda was away, and even though every single person in the office looked fantastic, each was wearing something they would swear up and down that they'd never, ever wear in front of Miranda. My bright red, mesh sneakers were a prime example.
I had broken a sweat by the time I made it back to our suite. "I've got all the papers and I bought the magazines, too, just in case. The only thing is, I don't think I can wear these shoes, can I?"
Emily tore the headset from her ear and flung it down on her desk.
"No, of course you can't wear those." She picked up the phone, dialed four digits, and announced, "Jeffy, bring me a pair of Jimmy's in a size . . ." She looked at me.
"Nine and a half." I pulled a small bottle of Pellegrino out of the closet and filled the glass.
"Nine and a half. No, now. No, Jeff, I'm serious. Right now. Andrea is wearing sneakers for chrissake, red sneakers, and She's going to be here any minute. OK, thanks."
It was then I noticed that in the four minutes I'd been downstairs, Emily had managed to switch her faded jeans to leather pants and her own funky sneakers to open-toe stilettos. She'd also cleaned up the entire office suite, sweeping the contents of both our desks into drawers and stashing all of the incoming gifts that hadn't yet been transferred to Miranda's apartment in the closet. She had slicked on a fresh coat of lip gloss and added some color to her cheeks and was presently motioning for me to get moving.
I grabbed the bag of newspapers and shook them out in a pile on the lightbox in her office, a sort of underlit table where Emily said Miranda would stand for hours on end and examine film that had come in from photo shoots. But it was also where she liked her papers arranged, and once again, I consulted my legal pad for the correct order. First, the New York Times, followed by the Wall Street Journal, and then the Washington Post. And on and on the order went in a pattern I couldn't distinguish, each placed slightly on top of the one before it until they fanned out across the table in formation. Women's Wear Daily was the single exception: this was to be placed in the middle of her desk.
"She's here! Andrea, come out here! She's on her way up," I heard Emily hiss from the outer area. "Uri just called to tell me he just dropped her off."
I put WWD on her desk, placed the Pellegrino on a corner of her desk on a linen napkin (which side? I couldn't remember which side it was supposed to go on), and darted from the office, taking one last look around to ensure that everything was in order. Jeffy, one of the fashion assistants who helped organize the fashion closet, tossed me a shoe box with a rubber band around it and bolted. I pulled it open immediately. Inside were a pair of Jimmy Choo heels with straps made of camel hair going every which way and buckles nestled in the middle of it all, probably worth around eight hundred dollars. Shit! I had to get these on. I yanked off my sneakers and my now sweaty socks and tossed them under my desk. The right one went on rather easily, but I couldn't work my stubby fingernail to free the buckle on the left one until—there! I pried it open and thrust my left foot into it, watching the straps bite into the already swollen flesh. In another few seconds I had it buckled and was returning to an upright sitting position just as Miranda walked in.
Frozen. I was absolutely frozen in midmotion, my mind working fast enough to understand how ridiculous I must look, but not quite fast enough to move. She noticed me immediately, probably because she was expecting Emily to still be sitting at her old desk, and walked over. She leaned on the counter that ran over my desk, leaned over it and even closer to me, until she was able to see my entire body as I sat, immobilized, in the chair. Her bright blue eyes moved up and down, side to side, all over my white button-down, my red corduroy Gap miniskirt, my now buckled camel-hair Jimmy Choo sandals. I felt her examine every inch of me, skin and hair and clothes, her eyes moving so quickly but her face remaining frozen. She leaned closer still, until her face was only a foot from mine and I could smell the fantastic aroma of salon shampoo and expensive perfume, so close that I could see the very fine lines around her mouth and eyes that were invisible from a more comfortable distance. But I couldn't look too long at her face, because she was intently examining mine. There wasn't the slightest indication that she recognized that a) we had, in fact, met before; b) I was her new employee; or c) I was not Emily.
"Hello, Ms. Priestly," I squeaked impulsively, even though somewhere in the back of my head I knew that she hadn't uttered a word yet. But the tension was unbearable, and I couldn't help but barrel forward. "I'm so excited to be working for you. Thank you so much for the opportunity to . . ." Shut up! Just shut your stupid mouth! Talk about no dignity.
She walked away. Finished looking me up and down, pushed backward off the counter, and just walked away while I was stuttering mid-sentence. I could feel heat coming off my face, a flush of confusion and pain and humiliation all wrapped into one, and it didn't help that I could feel Emily glaring at me. I pulled my hot face upward and confirmed that Emily was indeed glaring at me.
"Is the Bulletin updated?" Miranda asked to no one in particular as she walked into her office and, I noticed happily, directly to the light table where I'd arranged her papers.
"Yes, Miranda. Here it is," Emily said obsequiously, racing in behind her and handing her the clipboard where we kept all of Miranda's messages typed as they come in.
I sat quietly, watching Miranda move deliberately around her office in the picture frames that hung on her wall: if I looked at the glass instead of at the photos themselves, I could see her reflection. Emily immediately busied herself at her desk, and silence prevailed. Do we never get to talk to each other or anyone else if she's in the office? I wondered. I wrote a quick e-mail to Emily, asking her as much, which I saw her receive and read. Her answer came back right away: You got it, she wrote. If you and I have to talk, we whisper. Otherwise, no talking. And don't EVER speak to her unless she speaks to you. And do not EVER call her Ms. Priestly—it's Miranda. Got it? I felt again as if I had been slapped, but I looked up and nodded. And it was then I noticed the coat. It was right there, a great big pile of fabulous-looking fur, all bunched up on the end of my desk, with one arm dangling off the edge. I looked at Emily. She rolled her eyes, waved her hand toward the closet, and mouthed, "Hang it up! "It was as heavy as a wet down comforter coming out of the washing machine, and I needed both hands to keep it from dragging on the floor, but I gingerly hung it on one of the silk hangers and gently, quietly, closed the doors.
I hadn't even sat back down when Miranda appeared next to me, and this time her eyes were free to roam over my entire body. Impossible as it seemed, I could feel each body part ignite as she eyed it, but I was frozen, unable to dive back to my chair. Just as my hair was about to catch fire, those relentless blue eyes finally stopped on mine.
"I'd like my coat," she said quietly, looking directly at me, and I wondered if she wondered who I was, or if she didn't notice or care that there was a relative stranger posing as her assistant. There wasn't so much as a glimmer of recognition, even though my interview with her had taken place a few weeks earlier.
"Surely," I managed, and moved toward the closet again, which was an awkward maneuver because she was currently standing between it and me. I turned my body sideways to keep from bumping into her and tried to slide myself past her, reaching to pull open the door I had just shut. She didn't move a single inch to let me pass, and I could feel that the eyes had continued their roving. Finally, blessedly, my hands closed around the fur, and I pulled it carefully to freedom. I wanted to throw it at her and see if she'd catch it, but I restrained myself at the last second and held it open as a gentleman would for a lady. She shrugged into it with one graceful motion and picked up her cell phone, the only item she had brought with her to the office.
"I'd like the Book tonight, Emily," she said as she walked confidently out of the office, probably not even noticing that a cluster of three women standing in the hall outside the suite scattered immediately upon seeing her, chins to their chests.
"Yes, Miranda. I'll have Andrea bring it up."
That was that. She left. And the visit that had inspired office-wide panic, frenzied preparations, even makeup and wardrobe adjustments, had lasted just under four minutes, and had taken place—as far as my inexperienced eyes could see—for absolutely no reason whatsoever.
The Devil Wears Prada isn’t funny enough to be entertaining. There’s not nearly enough character development to develop any empathy for Andrea, Miranda, Emily or other characters. There’s little we learn about human nature. Don’t waste your time reading unless for some reason your interest is strong, or you just have to read every best seller.
Steve Hopkins, August 22, 2003
ã 2003 Hopkins and Company, LLC
The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the September 2003 issue of Executive Times
URL for this review: http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/The Devil Wears Prada.htm
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