Radio review: Sharpening up the witty one-liners

Nuala McCann

Sharp – The Women who made an art of having an opinion - Radio 4

Michelle Dean's book Sharp – The Women who made an art of having an opinion – kicked off on radio with the queen of the one-liners Dorothy Parker.

She was “one writer who could never help sounding like herself, you could practically hear the scratch of her voice.”

These were much more than a series of potted biographies of witty intelligent women – Dean gets under their skin and plays out the light and darkness of their lives.

On the one hand, we were served up quality titbits of the old Parker vinegar wit.

One of her earliest lines for Vogue read: “Brevity is the soul of lingerie”, but we also were given a glimpse behind the brittle veneer to the real Parker whose voice was “self hating, masochistic” at times and who attempted suicide; who wanted to be a good writer, but who wanted the money more.

The final woman to feature in this adaptation was Nora Ephron – the screen writer behind romantic comedies, When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle.

The only novel Ephron wrote was about the break-up of her marriage to Carl Bernstein who broke Watergate. But he didn't break her.

Her novel, Heartburn, was her ultimate act of revenge.

Writer Michelle Dean tells how Ephron met up with the husband of the woman Bernstein cheated with.

“Peter, isn't it awful,” she told him. “I'm crying hysterically but I'm thinking that some day this will be a funny story.”

Heartburn was a best seller, made Ephron temporarily rich and got her away from Bernstein.

“He cheated on me and then got to behave as if he had been wronged because I wrote about it,” she said later.

Still, it's the magnificent one-liners that stay with you from this oh-so-sharp Book of the Week.

Ephron was particularly malevolent about Julie Nixon.

“I don't like her,” she said in one television chat show interview. “I think she's a chocolate-covered spider.”

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