Clare Naylor: Not just another "Bridget Jones"

Published July 1, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

The shadow of "Notting Hill" looms large over Clare Naylor. The 28-year-old British author shares a Hollywood agent with Hugh Grant. Her old roommate dates one of the movie's producers. Her boyfriend lives in the now fabled mixed neighborhood of twee shops, junk stores and street vendors.

And as it happens, Naylor's debut novel, "Love: A User's Guide," has a reverse "Notting Hill" plot : Amy, a 24-year-old editorial assistant at British Vogue, falls in love with a screen hunk named Orlando Rock. As in the movie, the romance of mere mortal and screen god is constantly tested by the ever invasive paparazzi. "I get calls from people who say, 'I saw the film and thought of your book,'" Naylor told Salon Books recently. "They say, 'Aren't you going to sue?' But I don't want to delve into it."

Given the other high-profile distractions Naylor has in the works, she can afford to be cavalier. "Love" will be published in the U.S. by Ballantine on July 8. (Hodder & Stoughton brought it out in Britain two and a half years ago.) Britain's Channel 4 is making a movie of the book from a screenplay co-written by Naylor and Frederic Raphael ("Eyes Wide Shut"). And Naylor has just submitted her third novel, as yet unnamed, to her publisher.

Only four years ago, she was an editorial assistant at the British magazine the Tatler. During a subsequent stint in book publishing, where she was also an editorial assistant, she used mornings, weekends and the odd bit of office downtime to write "Love" in the first three months of 1996. The effort landed her a two-book deal for close to $120,000.

Even though it published at around the same time as Helen Fielding's blockbuster, "Bridget Jones's Diary," Naylor's novel got her lumped in with the post-Fielding single-girl writers the Daily Mail dubbed "the Lit Girls" -- a group of successful authors in their 20s that includes Anna Davis ("The Dinner") and Freya North ("Sally"). Though Naylor's book offers little utilitarian value to single girls who seek a realistic image of the man they should look for (Orlando Rock?), it does include an amusing if all too brief sendup of life as a Condi Nast assistant. ("Amy, the Lacroix. Quick. Today, purleasse.")

Naylor doesn't feel all that competitive with Helen Fielding. "My books have more optimism," she told Salon. "'Bridget Jones's Diary' seemed quite sad, actually." As she approaches 30, though, she definitely feels for the character. "Sometimes I think, great -- I'm growing up to be Bridget Jones."

By Craig Offman

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

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