I couldn’t resist its clever proof jacket, whose wine stain hinted at hedonism (sadly ditched in the final version), and intriguing title so I put up my hand for a copy of Mikaella Clements’ and Onjuli Datta’s The View Was Exhausting. I was also fascinated by the idea of two authors, who turn out to be married to each other, writing a novel together. All this could simply have added up to a publicist’s dream but Clements’ and Datta’s debut is much more than that, exploring fame and its cost through Leo Milanowski and Whitman Tagore: one born into it, the other suffering it as a byproduct of her work.
It tired him out just thinking about her, the days without end, the exhausting and never-ending professional activity of being Whitman Tagore
Win is a British Indian actor, the darling of Hollywood, with her sights set on the female lead in a new adaptation of The Sun Also Rises when the fallout from her last relationship sees her social media coverage full of allegations of control freakery. Her publicist, Marie, calls in the ever-dependable Leo, always there to rescue Win from these situations since she was lined up as his date at one of his father’s parties. They resurrect their on-again, off-again romance, this time staged in San Tropez with spontaneous photo opportunities carefully choreographed by Marie. By the end of the week, Win’s image is restored but before they return to their separate lives, a revelation is made that changes this relationship which relies on the trust and chemistry between them, both on camera and off. When Win’s frequent visits to hospital are misrepresented, Leo steps in, unasked, heedless of her hostility. As social media erupts in yet another feeding frenzy after a further revelation, the couple has a showdown. Win wants never to see him again but there’s no escaping her best friend’s wedding and Leo will be there.
It’s always been my favourite side of you, Whitman. Kind of an exotic Sophia Loren
This isn’t the first novel I’ve read by two authors. Last year’s Business as Usual springs to mind but that was epistolatory, relatively easy to divide. Clements’ and Dutta’s novel is a straightforward linear narrative but I’d challenge any reader to detect where one writer ends and the other begins in this smart slice of summer reading. Events are presented from Win’s perspective. Her grip on her image is steely, her determination to keep everyone at a distance a self-protection strategy aided by Marie who’s as dedicated to Win’s career as she is. Running through the narrative is Win and Leo’s backstory, from their ‘first date’ seven years ago when they were both barely twenty. It’s a cleverly managed story, absorbing and entertaining but sobering in its exploration of its themes despite the light touch with which they’re handled, not least Hollywood’s apparently unconscious racism. Win is all too well aware that her image must be pristine in an industry where actors of colour, let alone female ones, are thin on the ground. Clements and Dutta neatly avoid a clichéd ending with a clever epilogue written in the form of a magazine piece. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Looking forward to seeing what these two come up with next.
Headline Publishing: London 9781472271716 352 pages Hardback
That’s it from me for a week or so. H and I are taking ourselves off to Sussex on Thursday, relieved that Mischief’s recovered from a minor injury which had put the holiday in jeopardy. We’ll be travelling by car leaving almost unlimited space for books…