“Consuming Passions”: Nip/Tuck

apple I have been reading up on the many and varied possibilities of a little light cosmetic surgery in foreign parts. For it is very, very chic to get it fixed – whatever it is – in an exotic location, your own personal fountain of youth.

Costa Rica for rhinoplasty? Brazil for your bum? South Africa. Thailand. Poland. Poland? Well, not Poland, maybe. Poland is not exotic, but it is cheap. But let me start with my own interest in the whole business of plastic surgery, of the tighter neck, the firmer jowls, the unwrinkled skin.

A while back I realised that everyone I knew was doing it or thinking about doing it, that the baby boom generation (mine) was busy fixing its face almost as easily as it coloured its hair. (And who has their own hair colour anymore and why would they?) There was a growing sense that in your own “natural” state your skin would soon resemble the skin on chickens’ feet or a baggy cover on an old sofa.

After the initial recognition that if you were not in the surgeon’s office you were nowhere, I more or less forgot about the whole thing. Until I sat down to lunch with an old friend in New York. “You’d do so well with a face-lift, R eggie,” she says, as we arrive at the restaurant. I explain to Joan Kron, the most respected journalist writing about cosmetic surgery in America, that what I really want is some input for a new novel. You see, I say, it’s about a woman who has a face-lift that works too well. S ubsequently she’s accused of a murder because she resembles somebody else. Pure Hitchcock, don’t you think, I say, taken up with my story.

Clearly, Joan is unconvinced that this is why I’ve called her. “You know, you really would look great,” she adds, sure that I’m here because, like many of her friends, I am considering the options for surgery and she is queen of face-lifts. Joan’s book, L ift: Wanting, Fearing and Having a Face- L ift , is witty and well written and full of interesting facts about her own plastic surgery, as well as S arah Bernhardt’s. Not to mention all those people in the 15th century who had nose jobs when it was considered a sin to go to God with a face not your own. It’s been a couple of years since my lunch with Joan Kron. My thriller, Somebody Else, comes out this month. I haven’t had the face-lift, though the temptations are ever greater, the possibilities compelling, the venues alluring.

These days, the lift, the augmentation, the nose job, even the ear-lobe reduction (very fashionable), not to mention the hair transplant and the sex reassignment surgery, can be done not just in any old medical facility at home in New York or L os Angeles or L ondon but somewhere fabulous abroad. R io, perhaps. Cosmetic surgery is practically a birthright in Brazil, and anyhow the music is great. Go online; you find hundreds of facilities, all offering the plastic surgery and the sights and the spas. All their doctors are top of the line, all have been trained in the U S or England, and so you wonder: how come they’re working in India? That’s India, the subcontinent, which is apparently big, big, big in the cosmetic surgery game.

“Beauty today is more a case of design than of default,” goes one of the promos. S ee the Taj Mahal with a new nose, get a session with your own guru while your new breasts heal. Don’t fancy India? In Phuket you can recuperate by the water, enjoy the beach, though of course you can’t go in the sun. Still, nothing’s too big or too small – baggy underarms, sex reassignment, it doesn’t matter – for the stellar surgeons of Thailand. The possibilities seem infinite: North Korea for the Axis of Evil Tummy Tuck; Iraq for a serious S addam hair transplant (moustache included). You could try Nepal, followed by a nice climb up Everest during recuperation. And if you like the sort of surprised look that suggests you have been strapped to the wing of a fighter plane, why not space? At five or six times the force of gravity, you barely need a surgeon. It seems really rather tempting, but there’s always a spoilsport waiting in the wings.

Looking for a nice resort in the Bahamas, I come across a news item from the BBC. One doctor is quoted: “I had a patient who was torn to bits in Istanbul, another who went to Cuba whose face- lift was a disaster.” And after? Well there was no after because the patient came home and the doctor was thousands of miles away. Maybe in the end I’ll just forget about it. The truth is that I’m so scared I figure the surgeon, no matter what his nationality, will probably stick the knife in my eye by mistake or I will die on the table in a foreign country, punished for vanity. It’s silly, I know, so just call me chicken. Chicken by nature, chicken by skin. I’ll just stay home and pull the covers over my head.