First published in 1982 as one of the first `bonkbusters', this has been reissued and, as one of its second generation readers, is a surprisingly intelligent read especially on issues of women's work, and money not so much as an asset but as a prerequisite for independence and autonomy.
It's certainly a fun, romp of a novel as we follow our four (five?) heroines from a Swiss finishing school in 1948 to New York in 1978. I like that our women aren't all ravishing beauties who want to be pop-stars, TV celebrities and actresses - they're certainly smart, talented and ambitious but boy, do they work hard too! These aren't token careers in the book, we actually follow them through the hard graft, the fear, the triumphs and the lows.
Conran has a nice sense of irony and historical awareness: the 1960s, for example, where Pagan is a `drunk' but never an alcoholic. She's also excellent on the changing sexual mores for, especially, women.
So for all its deserved bonkbuster accolades this is, at times, as angry as The Women's Room
(1977) - and has every right to be: the appalling abuse and exploitation of Lili; the waste of bright, intelligent girls being brought up to do nothing but catch a man and churn out babies; the terrible lack of confidence in those who, for whatever reason, don't manage to achieve that; even the way girls are taught to spend money but not to understand it or earn it.
So by all means we can read this as a beachy/holiday/travel romp of a book - but Conran wraps up some important commentary amongst all the fun and frolics. Above all, this seems to have been written on a wave of female optimism and adventure and it's nice to recapture the possibilities that were opening up for women for the first time in the 1960s-1970s.