Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Book Review: Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures

By Becky Gulc

Earlier this year I chose Emma Straub’s Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures as one of my holiday reads. Here is the synopsis:

The enchanting story of a midwestern girl who escapes a family tragedy and is remade as a movie star during Hollywood’s golden age.

In 1920, Elsa Emerson, the youngest and blondest of three sisters, is born in idyllic Door County, Wisconsin. Her family owns the Cherry County Playhouse, and more than anything, Elsa relishes appearing onstage, where she soaks up the approval of her father and the embrace of the audience. But when tragedy strikes her family, her acting becomes more than a child¹s game of pretend.

While still in her teens, Elsa marries and flees to Los Angeles. There she is discovered by Irving Green, one of the most powerful executives in Hollywood, who refashions her as a serious, exotic brunette and renames her Laura Lamont. Irving becomes Laura’s great love; she becomes an Academy Award¬-winning actress—and a genuine movie star. Laura experiences all the glamour and extravagance of the heady pinnacle of stardom in the studio-system era, but ultimately her story is a timeless one of a woman trying to balance career, family, and personal happiness, all while remaining true to herself.’ (Synopsis courtesy of Emma Straub's website).

I like to mix up my holiday reads so thought this book would offer something different to the more traditional ‘chick lit’ I had in my suitcase. I’d been drawn to the cover a good while before reading this, it seemed to ooze sophistication and I’ve had my stages of reading numerous biographies about Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland so it was appealing in that respect, but as I’m not necessarily drawn to fictional books set in the past I was also intrigued to see whether I would actually take to this novel or not.

I was drawn in. I loved this book; it was everything I hoped it would be and more. Whilst my pre-conception was that ‘Laura’ may have been a bit of a diva and unlikable, she was actually far from it; incredibly likable and I felt real empathy for her as we were taken through her life’s journey with her, starting with her childhood. No, she’s not without her flaws, and I don’t think you’d expect to read a novel about a fictional star without those flaws, but the flaws were true to the character and what she goes through. These flaws aren’t over-hyped which I maybe thought they would be. In this sense it was pleasing to feel this empathy with the character right through to the end of the novel.

Whilst there is a little glimpse into the glamour and film industry in this Hollywood era, the book is much more concerned with the day-to-day life of Elsa/Laura at home. There are some very dark moments that I didn’t always expect. Maybe I’m a bit strange but I enjoyed these dark moments the most as it was these that offered us real insight into the ‘normality’ of a star’s life, including what happens when a star begins to dwindle in popularity as well as how they cope with the losses in life that everyone goes through. I’m sure I found the ‘Hollywood’ star of days gone by much more intriguing than I would have done if the main character was a modern-day celebrity, the setting of the golden age of Hollywood worked for me, I could picture the Hollywood scene and Laura’s homes so vividly in my mind.

Whilst I’ve seen that some readers have been analysing the characters to see if they reflect real-life Hollywood stars, I didn’t find myself doing this. Given hindsight, reading what other people say about this is quite interesting, so those interested in Hollywood history may well enjoy this.

Overall I’d recommend that anyone spends some time getting to know Laura Lamont; a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Thanks to Penguin UK for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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