Book #67

Becky by Sarah May


Becky Sharp is determined. Determined to get away from the dead-end town where she grew up, determined to make a place for herself in high society and determined to reach the top of the career ladder. And she doesn’t care how many lives she ruins in the process.

Set in 90s tabloid era London, Becky charts the rise and fall of a very modern heroine as she inveigles her way into the highest society, where tabloid millionaires mingle and trade favours and fortunes with royalty and aristocracy, pushes her way up through the ranks at the Mercury newspaper with manipulative scoop after scoop, and eventually orchestrates her own dramatic downfall. These are some of the biggest news stories and scandals of the last few decades, and Becky seems to have something to do with every one of them.

A modern take on Vanity Fair which only made me wish I’d had more recent memories of Thackeray’s novel. I last enjoyed that one ten years ago; possibly time for a refresh.

Becky Sharp is an ambitious young journalist, one who will draw the line at very little. Constantly searching for the next big story, and prepared to behave in abhorrent ways to get it, she is incredibly unlikeable. And yet, May allows us into her mind so although I was unable to like her, I was able to understand her to a degree.

We travel through Becky’s life, navigating her pitfalls, celebrating her success, experiencing karma unmercifully chasing her. At the end of the novel, we’re forced to ask ourselves whether it was all worth it. Do the sacrifices we make, the people we hurt, the morals we shirk, allow us a better life? Quite often it doesn’t seem so.

Most interesting of all is the way in which May weaves real life events into the narrative. We’re familiar with the morally objectionable behaviours of journalists in the 90s and 00s, and May shows us these starkly, from Princess Diana to the News of the World phone hacking scandal. Whilst neither of these events help us warm to Becky, it’s fascinating to understand them from the inside of a newspaper office.

I did feel the narrative was jarring in places, and there were a number of characters I was engaged with who weren’t given as much attention or fleshing out as I would have liked. Becky’s only focus, however, is Becky, so this light touch of other characters seemed a bit fitting.

An interesting read, and engaging dip into the world of newspapers, ambition, and the consequences of self-interest and lack of remorse. I’m looking forward to seeing what May does next.