What happens when you write a character so revered that her life eclipses your own? SARAH BREEN asks Candace Bushnell
It’s been 18 years since Candace Bushnell wrote Sex and the City, a collection of essays that became the basis of a hit television show and, eventually, spawned two box office-smashing movies. Carrie Bradshaw, played on both small and large screens by Sarah Jessica Parker, is Bushnell’s most famous creation, a character who defined a new breed of 30-something women navigating the complex late 1990s dating scene – and wearing Manolo Blahniks while doing it.
Almost two decades later, Bushnell has just finished her eighth book, Killing Monica. The story’s protagonist, PJ Wallis, is a successful New York author, famed for writing one larger-than-life character: Monica. So far, so familiar. In the book, PJ decides the only way to get her own personal life back on track is to kill off her alter ego, who had started overshadowing her completely. Well, there’s really only one conclusion a reader can draw ...
“It’s not about me wanting to kill Carrie Bradshaw,” Bushnell is quick to reassure on a call from Manhattan. “I love Carrie and I would never want to kill her.”
While Bushnell drew on her own experience as an author in creating both PJ Wallis and Monica, she says she found inspiration for the story elsewhere.“I’d been working on a book idea for a year and it just wasn’t jelling,” she says. “I tried to figure out what I had in my life that was unique, and that I could make fun of. I started reading Philip Roth, who created a character who wrote a book and everybody hates him. I thought that it was a hilarious construct for a comic novel: a woman who’s created a character that’s dominating her life.”
Once you scratch the surface of Monica, it becomes apparent that she’s about as far from Cosmopolitan-sipping, Marlboro Light-smoking Carrie as you could get. According to Bushnell, she’s an amalgam of the attributes young women strive to have. Realising this perfection is unattainable is one of the reasons Monica has to die. “In our 20s and 30s we create an idealised self, and Monica is a metaphor for that,” Bushnell explains. “She’s the one who always exercises and who doesn’t drink too much. When you get to your 40s, that idealised self doesn’t work anymore and you’ve got to reinvent it. Killing Monica is a metaphor for letting go of the past.”
One of the reasons Bushnell’s books have been so wildly popular is the complexity of her female protagonists. She maintains that flaws are what make them real – and relatable: “When I create characters I really get into their heads. I think that’s why so many people assume that I’m writing about my own life.
Killing Monica (Little, Brown, €22) is out now.
This story appears in the July/August issue of The Gloss. Find more features like this in our next issue, out Saturday September 5