Recommendsday: Novels about the Movies

It was the Oscars at the weekend, so what better opportunity to mention some books with movie stars or the movie industry in them

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Everyone is talking about Daisy Jones and the Six at the moment because the adaptation is out* but Jenkins Reid’s first book in what she’s called the Mick Riva universe is about an elderly movie star who wants an up and coming journalism to write her life story. I have vivid memories of starting to read this on my phone in the immigration queue at Dulles airport, but I actually didn’t finish it until months later. Daisy is the book that really broke through – probably because Reese Witherspoon optioned it – but I think Evelyn is just as good – it was a Book of the Week when I did finish it. And if you know your old Hollywood, there is a lot of fun to be had in figuring out what inspired which bits of Evelyn’s story.

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

It’s sort of a stretch to include this because it is before Louise became famous, but I’ve gone with it because I enjoyed it when I read it a decade ago and it’s a bit different. If Evelyn Hugo is a reimagining of Hollywood history creating a new legendary star, The Chaperone falls into the real people-adjacent category. I’ve written whole posts about novelised real people, and this is sort of that, except that our real person isn’t the main character. It’s 1922 and Cora Carlisle is in charge of taking the teenaged Louise Brooks from Kansas to New York to study dance. Louise isn’t at all happy about having a woman old enough to be her mother chaperoning her on the trip and Cora has her own reasons for making the journey too. Set over about five weeks, this has prohibition New York, Louise Brooks before she was a film star and the rapid changes that were happening in society in the 1920s. I didn’t realise until I was writing this that it had been turned into a film – but it did come out in 2020 and we all know that there was a lot going on then and you couldn’t go to the cinemas so maybe that’s not a surprise, but I’ll have to look it up on the streaming services!

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

Neely, Anne and Jennifer become best friends as young women in New York and across the course of the book climb to the top of the entertainment industry. But their lives are intertwined with the pills they take – the dolls of the title – and they cause more problems than they solve. This is a twentieth century classic – if you haven’t read it, you really should. My copy is a very pretty Virago Hardback, but as you can see the latest edition marks the book’s fiftieth anniversary, although we’re now closer to the sixtieth!

Of course there are loads of other books I could have included – I included Anthony Marra’s Mercury Pictures Presents in a Quick Reviews post a few months back, so it’s a bit soon to write another review of it, but that is set in the world of the studio system during and after the Second World War. Fear in the Sunlight in Nicola Upson’s Josephine Tey series is set around the production of a very real Hitchcock film in Portmeirion in 1936. Carrie Fisher used her own experiences in Hollywood to write Postcards from the Edge about a Hollywood star with a drug problem, and Angela Carter’s Wise Children also includes the twins’ experiences in the movie business

And as is traditional with these things, I have a bunch of stuff that would fit this still sitting on the to-read pile, like Blonde by Joyce Carole Oates (which Ana de Armas was nominated for in this years Oscars losing out to Michelle Yeoh), Their Finest Hour and a Half is about the only Lissa Evans novel (for adults) that I haven’t read – although I have seen the movie that it was turned into, which is just called Their Finest, and Laura Kalpakian’s The Great Pretenders, about the granddaughter of a movie mogul who strikes out on her own in the business, which I impulse bought in Foyles last summer.

Happy Wednesday everyone!

*and don’t this won’t be the last time I mention Daisy I’m sure!