A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
I’m not very good at writing negative reviews: I hum and haw, clutching at straws to come up with something positive to say, and when that proves impossible, I blame myself for not ‘getting’ the book.
I fully expected to enjoy this slim novel because (a) it’s one of those delicious little Prion Humour Classics hardbacks – utterly lovely to hold; (b) it’s a satire on 1920s’ Hollywood – and, Hollywood being still as crazy as ever, a satire of this kind should stay fresh; (c) it’s narrated by a naive, pompous fool of a man, and I have a soft spot for such narrators; (d) it came with a warm recommendation from someone I know to (normally) have a good taste; and (e) even from the very plot description I thought this promised to be a fun read.
The narrator, Elmer Bliss, is a failed journalist from the East Coast, who has moved to Los Angeles and made his fortune there by writing positively about everybody and everything. He believes California is a Paradise on Earth, and takes everything at face value: most importantly, he’s convinced that his idol, film star Viola Lake, is just as innocent as she looks on film. Then her cook’s diaries are to be used as evidence in an infamous murder trial, and the cook may have written something about Viola’s numerous lovers . . . and her unfortunate drug habit. It’s all lies, of course – Elmer is sure of it – but something must be done to save the lady’s reputation.
The premise had so much potential for tongue-in-cheek intrigue and Wodehousian antics. I read the first chapter thinking, ‘Ooh, this will surely be good’; the middle thinking, ‘Well, this will probably get better soon’; and finally finished thinking, ‘That was it?’ The plot doesn’t go anywhere, Elmer Bliss goes on being a pompous ass, and worst of all his breathless style begins to feel decidedly unfunny after a few of chapters. There are perhaps three or four laugh-out-loud moments, but in a comic novel that’s altogether too little, especially as the rest of it barely raises a smile. And to think Loos wrote Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, too.
What am I missing?
Final Verdict: I didn’t like it, but I can’t help thinking it’s my fault somehow.
Prion Books, hardback, 2000 (orig. 1961), 224 pp., ISBN: 1853753661 (out of print)
(Originally posted 20 September 2007)