Royals by Emma Forrest

Royals is a novel about a fast, unlikely friendship, about finding someone who believes in what you can create, and about the tragedy of living too fast. Steven is eighteen, Jewish, probably gay, into fashion, and lives in the East End of London. When he is beaten by his father on the day of Charles and Diana’s wedding, he ends up in hospital, where he meets Jasmine, an heiress who tried to kill herself. Drawn together by their interest in fashion and faded Hollywood stars, they begin an intense friendship, becoming inseparable despite their differences. But lurking behind Jasmine’s quirkiness and frivolity lies more, and maybe her and Steven’s schemes and plans aren’t meant to be.

The early 80s setting of the novel is vividly depicted (though the odd Americanism does distract a little) with a distinctive style, drawing somewhat from Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty but more obsessively focused on the two central characters. It took until the end to realise that it was carefully crafted to present a very short space of time with what seems to be a meandering narrative until you see where it was going. The novel has a lot of focus on identity—on defining or not defining things, on how different identities interact—which makes it feel more like it is doing something fresh and exciting, not just another story about someone working class meeting someone very rich.

This is the kind of book where you want to immerse yourself in its aesthetic for a moment, but also remember that the point is that it isn’t all as rosy as dreaming of living like that might make it seem. It feels aimed at both the millennials who enjoy the 80s vibe without having experienced it, and those who remember the names dropped throughout. Royals is a stylistic jump into a fictional summer filled with real detail.