I first read Candace Bushnell’s The Carrie Diaries when I was seventeen: as an avid viewer of the iconic TV programme Sex and the City I was keen to discover more about Carrie’s past and understand how the suburban Connecticut teenager grew into the Manolo-obsessed, over-analytical relationship columnist we all know and love today (I’m ignoring the films here).
And now, after watching the fresh-faced prequel of the same name, I was even more eager to compare the two interpretations, and, more importantly, to lose myself in Carrie’s first ever summer in New York City in Bushnell’s follow up, Summer and the City.
The novels are, obviously, perfect for SATC fans who just can’t get enough. We first meet seventeen year old Carrie in 1980-something, obsessing about her single status and striving to be a writer. The prequels explore much of the themes that characterised the popular TV series – love, friendship, romance and unapologetically being yourself– albeit on a smaller, less tumultuous scale. It is easy to identify the essence of TV’s Carrie Bradshaw within her anxious younger self, especially with her infamous internal musings, on everything from virginity to writer’s block.
In The Carrie Diaries, Bushnell manages with ease the most difficult aspect of creating a successful prequel – combining (and maintaining) the lovable soul of the original with enough creative backstory to ensure that the material does not appear tired, hopefully producing a stand-alone story in the process. The style, although simple and designed to appeal to both adult and teenage audiences, retains a certain elegance and poignancy at pivotal moments that transforms it beyond average teenage fare.
Summer and the City is arguably less successful: although still a highly enjoyable page-turner, the introduction of all three leads feels a little rushed. Carrie’s instant ability to merge with the glitterati, whilst potentially implausible, works in creating a sparkling, vibrant and yet murky New York City, with romantic adventures that can be effectively summed up as very ‘Carrie’. Although the characterisation of the strident, confident Samantha is excellent (how can anyone ever beat Kim Cattrall?), the character of Miranda is less defined, and perhaps would have benefited from a later introduction: unfortunately, there can be too much of a good thing. But, despite the fact that the escapades of the trio can, at times, lapse into cliché, I’m still waiting in hope for another sequel. Long live the original squad goals.