A powerful publishing executive falls from grace in Jihan Latimer’s debut novel, The Tale of Miss Berta London.
Berta London commands the fashion world as the icy editor-in-chief of Eloquent magazine. When she makes an erroneous fashion call that results in her firing, her upscale lifestyle ends. She reverts to her childhood dream of helping children and soon gets a teaching degree.
She also becomes a nanny to a wealthy Manhattan family with three children and disinterested parents. By guiding the children through various thorny situations, she wins their trust and their parents’ appreciation. Miss Berta subsequently leaves to pursue an opportunity that melds her previous experience with her newfound interpersonal skills and kinder disposition.
Initially reminiscent in its early chapters of The Devil Wears Prada, the book begins promisingly with Latimer shrewdly depicting the competitive culture of fashion publishing. Miss Berta, to whom fashion “was her escape from reality and the invention of who she was as a person,” emerges as a believable, though somewhat clichéd character.
However, the book’s encouraging start dissipates as Latimer makes quick work of Miss Berta’s transition from star to subordinate and back again. Miss Berta’s new persona resembles an unlikely composite of Anna Wintour and Mary Poppins, as she has “transformed from a careless, iron heart, to a soft, kind and gentle person.” Both she and the story’s inventive plot twists become less credible at this point and, thereby, less compelling to follow.
Paying more attention to story and character development and relying less on stereotypes would enhance the narrative and make Miss Berta and her changing circumstances more plausible and captivating. While this is an imaginative tale of redemption, it is in need of tailoring to merit widespread attention.