The Adventuress, by Nicholas Coleridge, Orion, RRP£18.99, 544 pages
Cathy Fox – svelte, tattooed, morally vacuous – escapes poverty in Portsmouth by becoming a matron’s assistant at a girls’ school. Bored and lonely, she strikes up an affair with a pupil’s affluent father and develops a taste for luxury. Seducing a succession of footballers, aristocrats and tycoons, she scrambles her way to the pinnacle of English society.
Nicholas Coleridge’s rags-to-riches tale is fast-paced and elegantly plotted but the sexual politics are somewhat askew: Cath’s prowess in the bedroom is her only talent, and she is forced to draw upon it in one squalid scenario after another. She is likened to “the heroine in a Victorian novel”, presumably with Vanity Fair in mind, but as far as I can remember Thackeray’s Becky Sharp was never required to perform sex acts in a Pall Mall massage parlour, nor to work as dominatrix for a duke.
It’s difficult to imagine an author foisting such indignities on an ambitious male protagonist.