When we were voting for the AlabamaPink book club this book was my second choice (even though I don’t vote my first choice was Between the Bridge and the River and I’ll be talking about my feelings on that one in my next review) so choosing this for the Alabama Pink bingo square made perfect sense to me. I like biographies, Audrey Hepburn, and classic Hollywood – done and done.
I am however left underwhelmed by the reading experience of this book. I think it can be attributed to the style of its author. Donald Spoto is a writer and theologian known for his best-selling biographies of film and theatre celebrities, including Alfred Hitchcock, Laurence Olivier, Tennessee Williams, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Marlene Dietrich, and Marilyn Monroe. However, in the past forty years he has written around thirty books and I fear they may have become formulaic, or I am over a several hundred page walk through someone’s life in chronological order.
This isn’t to say that Audrey Hepburn’s life wasn’t incredibly interesting in and of its own right – she lived through parental divorce, spending years at boarding school, living in Nazi-occupied Holland, an incredible rise to Hollywood stardom, her own failed marriages, struggles in motherhood, and important work with UNICEF in the later years of her life. I wish this book was as alive as Hepburn was; that it relished in the life she lead instead of lapping at the edges of her deep ocean.
While I would agree that Spoto is perceptive and well-researched (his endnotes give this evidence, you wouldn’t necessarily know from the tenor of his writing), he is also as Michael Coveney of The Guardian described him: “quasi-academic gossipmonger”. Somewhere in between he lost me, and a review of a biography is a review of the writer and their product – not the subject.
I went back and read AlabamaPink’s review from 2008 and while she was much warmer in her reception of the book than me, she and I share a similar opinion of the author’s take: “Spoto chronicles Hepburn’s personal struggles gently, as a close friend would, never with an air of salaciousness. If there were any faults to the book, it would be Spoto’s obvious admiration for his subject. He finds little fault with any of her film performances, heaping enormous praise (not wholly undue) for her work in A Nun’s Story. While the cynic in me could argue that Spoto intentionally omitted negative remarks about Hepburn from Hollywood, it isn’t hard to accept that her colleagues genuinely adored her and simply didn’t have a slanderous word to say against her.”
I guess I’m the cynic.
Bingo Square: AlabamaPink