Love & Fame
Susie Boyt’s sixth novel, published by Virago at £14.99 and coming in at 260 pages, takes readers on to the periphery of the West End stage. Indeed, at the start it looks like it will get very much closer since one of the main characters, Eve Swift, is about to make her major-league debut portraying Nina in The Seagull.
Cold feet put paid to a budding career following the path trodden by her illustrious father John Swift. He has reached the veteran stage and relishes the impending opportunity to take on King Lear, which will make a challenging change from the day job as a much-lauded TV sitcom publican.
During the course of Love & Fame, Eve undergoes much change. First, she leaves the theatre, next marries an irritatingly calm but lovable author called Jim, who is about to launch a treatise to the world on the joys of anxiety, with every chance that it will become supremely popular in the United States.
That would be enough for most women in their mid-20s, let alone novelists painting the portraits of their lives, but Eve faces so much more. First, her much-loved father passes away then she becomes pregnant, much to the delight of mum Jean who certainly needs a fillip having lost her husband in unexpected circumstances that leave the two women feeling bereft and psychologically damaged.
Initially, the second chapter seems to bear no relationship to the first, begging the question about whether this was actually a set of short stories. However, the tale of two sisters, Beach and Rebecca Melville (everyone significant in this book seems to be named after novelists), the first a kind and loving bereavement counsellor, the second a cynical hack who doesn’t quite have the killer edge that one might expect, starts to overlap with that of the actor’s family.
Whether it is cookery classes, therapy or journalism, those interactions can be mendacious and/or uncomfortable, changing the lives and outlooks of all involved before the end of a sensitive novel.
The main themes that the author addresses are of vital importance in the 21st century. She looks at the careers of women, the significance of the stage, introduces a debate about the impact of anxiety for good as well as evil and a meditation on mortality.
Susie Boyt has a lovely writing style and good sense of humour, which helps to leaven some of the more serious issues that Love & Fame seeks to address. While the theatrical elements are not always central to the plot, this is a thought-provoking and thoughtful novel that is definitely worth a try.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher