Life & Culture

Not Safe For Work Book review: Playing the Hollywood game

Engaging adult debut set in Obama-era America is undeniably informed by the Harvey Weinstein scandal


Not Safe For Work
by Isabel Kaplan
Michael Joseph £16.99

This engaging adult debut is set in Obama-era America, but it’s undeniably informed by the Harvey Weinstein scandal and Hollywood’s subsequent #MeToo movement.

Our heroine, a young Jewish Los Angeles native who has just taken an assistant job at a TV studio, is no naïf.

A Harvard graduate, she’s smart enough to know what is expected of women like her in this world: it’s not enough to be good at your job, you need to also be appealing and attractive, and willing to play the game, whatever that may be.

Nor is she innocent to the power dynamics of the industry, securing her position through nepotism like many of those before her.

And she knows too well what men are capable of. Her mother is a veteran feminist campaigner, a lawyer who now practises corporate law but who once fought a public battle for the rights of women who had been assaulted or raped.

But despite her worldliness, she finds a world even more rotten at the core than she’d expected, one where male studio executives can do what they want, when they want, and the women are expected to be grateful.

Meanwhile, her outwardly impressive but privately difficult and unstable mother is a constant source of stress. At some point, something has to give. The question is, is success worth all the compromises? And at what point do you become complicit in a system you recognise is problematic?

If that sounds serious and worthy, fear not: this is an energetic page-turner with plenty of delicious insights into Hollywood (the author previously worked at a TV network and still works in entertainment) and countless witty, wry passages (especially those skewering the terrible television shows that get pitched to the studio).

Her heroine is warm and someone to fight for, even when she’s making bad choices, while the specifically Jewish mother-daughter dynamic (so much guilt) sits just the right side of stereotypical. Light and gossipy in tone, if it’s a beach read it’s also one that will make you think.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, you could see this as a brilliant film, exactly the sort of complex female-led story Hollywood has long been slow to commission.

This may not be the definitive #MeToo novel, but it’s a reminder why that movement happened and how much there is still to do.

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