Monday, June 26, 2017

Book Review- The Price of Illusion: A Memoir by Joan Juliet Buck


When I received a PR pitch about Joan Juliet Buck's memoir, The Price of Illusion, I was certain it was going to be a hate-read. Ms. Buck had a certain reputation based on her tenure as the American editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris between 1994 and 2001, when she was fired amid a scandal caused by a whirlwind of rumors. She was succeeded by Carine Roitfeld, who didn't seem to harbor much warm fuzzies for her predecessor. A decade later Ms. Buck, by then a freelance writer, took an assignment from Anna Wintour. She was to go to Syria and interview the first lady, Bashar al-Assad's wife, for Vogue magazine’s March 2011 “Power Issue.” The unfortunately titled "A Rose in the Desert" article was the end of Joan Juliet Buck's relationship with Vogue, as well as with readers around the world. With that in mind I passed on the offer to phone-interview the author and bought my own digital copy.

As I expected, the memoir has an underlying apologetic undercurrent as well as a good dose of rationalization. What I didn't expect was for it to be good, in parts enchanting and enlightening, sometimes juicy, often surprisingly frank, and almost consistent in its flow and narrative. I was captivated by Ms. Buck's stories about her childhood, her parents and grandparents, growing up in the world of movie-making surrounded by mega-celebrities who were close family friends. This upbringing doesn't breed ordinary people. It might, however, encourage a skewed worldview and character flaws, which is how Ms. Buck sees the road that caused her to make some very bad decisions.

Do I buy it? To a point, maybe. I'm not sure if and how I would have found it in me to to ask Anna Wintour what the hell had she been thinking and to send her to find a moral backbone. The book, though, offers a lot more than excuses. The stories and the worlds they paint are fascinating for someone interested in vintage movies, London and Paris of past decades, and, of course, fashion. The anecdotes are rich in details about people, decor, and stunning clothes. Ms. Buck doesn't hold back  the snark regarding certain people (every Karl Lagerfeld mention is delicious), but a thread of sorrow and regret saves the book from being more mean-spirited than necessary. The decades and locations come to life in front of the reader and you are free to make judgment for yourself. I might have cringed at certain points, but I was not bored for a second.

The Price of Illusion: A Memoir by Joan Juliet Buck (originally $16.02 for the digital version on Amazon) is currently available for $1.99.

Image: Vogue Paris December 1994/January 1995 cover. The movie themed issue is one of Ms. Buck's most iconic. Model Karen Mulder posing as Marlen Dietrich, photographed by Michael Thompson

3 comments:

  1. Fabulous interview - it will be either the library or digital. Thank you, this was really well done.

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  2. Thank you for the review. I've requested The Price of Illusion from my city library where two new copies are in process to the shelves. Looking forward to an enjoying this as a lazy summer read.

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  3. You write with such perception and clarity, Gaia. Thank you for calling this to our attention and for giving us such a sound basis for deciding if it's right for our reading list.

    ReplyDelete

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