Everybody's in Showbiz

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What to make of book whose protagonist isn’t the most interesting character? That’s the situation in Andrew O’Hagan’s Personality, book number 52 in my seemingly impossible goal to read 52 novels in 2004. The novel is primarily about the stress of fame on Maria, a child singer, as she grows out of a quiet childhood on a small island in Scotland to a demanding adulthood in London.

From the first chapter, which documents a body washing up on a beach during WWII, you know that the book is going to be about more than just Maria. It delves into the history of Scotland and the treatment of its Italian immigrants during the war (they were assumed to be Nazi sympathizers), the loss of a child, distrust, hidden family secrets and a whole bunch of other stuff before it even gets to Maria’s story.

At times during the early chapters, there is a “get to the story” feeling, but once the story comes it ends up being one of the less interesting of the book. Maria’s story of going from one show to another, dropping her family from her life, and struggling with anorexia and depression never changes. It simply serves as a weak backbone for stronger secondary stories.

What saves the book, and makes it one of the better novels I’ve read this year, is O’Hagan’s writing. His write with detail without getting bogged down. He accomplishes this by changing perspective and style. Everyone seems to have a say in their own short chapter or two. Styles include traditional narrative, newspaper clippings, TV interviews, and letters. The result is a very enjoyable book about not so enjoyable subjects.

Next up for me is nothing. I have reached my goal of 52 novels this year. I still have another novel out from the library that I plan on starting soon, and the missus picked up the Best American Short Stories 2004 for me and I look forward to getting into that. But for the time being I am going to enjoy reading the whole newspaper for a while.


At 9:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations Mark on reaching your "52 novels in 52 weeks" goal, and way ahead of schedule!! Thats impressive.
This last book sounds really interesting, I may check it out. I liked Liars and Saints alot, but it felt like the book ended before the story did. It just felt great, though, to actually finish a novel. Something I haven't done since the girls grew out of the "daily nap and 7pm bedtime" stage. Maybe I'll set a similar but smaller goal for myself this coming year...12 novels in 12 months. Thats do-able. I'll get some material ideas from you.

At 9:51 AM, Blogger Mark said...

I'm glad I finished early, I'll need ten weeks to decide my goal for 2005.

At 3:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, you are into home improvement, so how about improving my home ? :)


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