Vulpes Libris

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.

Classic Hatchet: No Mother to Guide Her, by Anita Loos

To round off Hatchet Job Week, here’s a classic review by Vulpes founder Leena.

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)

7 comments on “Classic Hatchet: No Mother to Guide Her, by Anita Loos

  1. Jackie
    April 10, 2010

    It sounds like it had a lot of potential, but maybe the author didn’t know what to do with it? Which is unfortunate, since I would think the Old Hollywood flavor & the revealing of what Viola’s true self is would hold a reader’s interest.
    This reminds me of when I read Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” which started so wonderfully with the moo cow & then went downhill.

  2. Kate Lace
    April 11, 2010

    Because you think it was you, not the book, that’s at fault I am more inclined to read it than if you’d given it the thumbs up. I am intrigued now, where as if you’d just given it a rave review or just said it was dire I’d have ignored it. So there – your review really worked.

  3. Nikki
    April 11, 2010

    I’m with you, Kirsty, I thought it sounded promising! I was even reading the review thinking, “This can’t be a hatchet job… surely not?!” I think those are the most disappointing reads – the ones that get you excited, look like they’ll be really good. And then let you down flat.

  4. kirstyjane
    April 11, 2010

    Much as I’d love to take the credit, this review is a classic one from Leena (as noted at the head of the piece). Glad you enjoyed it!

  5. Llyn
    April 12, 2010

    Since Anita Loos wrote the immortal Gentlemen prefer blondes (which, by the way, is much more sarcastic than the film), I’m surprised that the book sounds so mediocre. Loos had a pretty rough life, check it out on Wikipedia.

  6. Nikki
    April 12, 2010

    Oops, sorry Kirsty! The sun had got to my brain!

  7. Alan Shuback
    December 30, 2019

    What are you missing? Loos’s subtle sense of humor; an understanding of Hollywood culture ca. 1920-1930; and, basically, the ability to read.

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This entry was posted on April 10, 2010 by in Special Features, Theme weeks and tagged , , .



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