This is kind of a tough review for me to write. In the course of reading this book I came to realize something about myself. I really am not a fan of fictional stories that revolve around real people and their histories, at least not as long as those people are recent enough that people who knew them could still be alive. This book is about the rise of 1950s movie actress Merle Oberon, and she only died in 1977. Along with that, as she’s a movie star in the age of the studio system, a huge chunk of the characters are other real people including famous and not-as-famous movie folks from the era. I have realized that I really just don’t like the idea of putting words and thoughts into actual people’s heads in the name of creating “fiction.” I don’t even like it when a real person pops in for a cameo in a historical novel, like if Arthur Conan Doyle pops up to ask for directions in a Victorian detective novel or something like that (I actually really hate cameos like that.).
I don’t think it should be banned or anything, this is totally a personal taste thing, but it really doesn’t work for me at all. I think it’s a little different if it’s a farther back historical figure, say Henry VIII or something, but even then it makes me a little twitchy.
Which is why I’m having a hard time writing this book review. It’s a really good book! Ashford is a good writer, the plot is strong, the characters are intriguing and interesting people, even the schmucks. I loved hearing about the various locales and movies sets. Merl as she is written is a fabulous protagonist. She’s real, and fun, and complex. The journey she takes from Calcutta to London to Hollywood, while not only traversing the normal difficulties of making it in the movies but also the blatant racism of the time and having to hide her half Indian mother from the world lest she be fired for violating the Hays Code is really engaging. I just personally can’t get over the fact that words are being put into mouths.
So, here’s the crux of it. If you like historical fiction and don’t care if a character in a fiction book was a real person, you will probably really enjoy this one. If this kind of thing bugs you, you can’t get away from it, almost everyone in here is a real person in some way, shape or form.