When the most famous producer in Hollywood plucks seventeen-year-old Elsa Emerson from a party and gives her a brand-new name, a star of the silver screen is born.
Having spent the summers of her childhood at her father’s roadside theatre, all she has ever wanted is to act. Here, it seems, is her dream come true. Step by step – new figure, new wardrobe, new house, new husband – she succumbs to the consuming power of the studio. But her transformation is more profound than she could ever have foreseen . . .
Elsa Emerson was the youngest of the Emerson children; and she, like her older sisters Josephine and Hildy grew up surrounded by performers. Their family run theatre in Door County, Wisconsin ensured that they all got a taste of the theatre life. However, it is only Elsa who makes it beyond the confined realms of small town entertainment. Elsa Emerson makes it to Hollywood where she becomes Oscar winning actress Laura Lamont.
Emma Straubs debut novel Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures is quite a difficult book. In some ways it is lovely; the shine of Hollywood glamour juxtaposed with the cattle market mentality that the major and independent studios work by offering light and shade to the story; the whimsical dreams of the characters who believe without a shadow of doubt that they will be the next big thing do entice you into the story and make you want to read more.
However, this is not an easy book in the sense that the underlying question – that of identity – is never really resolved but in the same sense it is almost explored to death. Who is Elsa Emerson? And for that matter who is Laura Lamont? We know that they are both one in the same but the steps that are gone to, to create the person that Elsa Emerson is to become often seems laborious.
Essentially, we feel like the story is saying that Elsa Emerson is all of the following things: daughter, actress, wife, divorcee, mother, business woman, widow, grandmother, psychiatric patient. It all just seems a bit much. And whilst there are some very interesting character arcs to Elsa/Laura they often feel a tad contrived e.g. the theme of mental imbalance, the theme of loss.
Further to this the narrative can at times seem detached and cold which wasn’t necessarily what I was expecting when I picked up this book.
Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures is a worthwhile read especially if you have a keen interest in the golden age of movie making in Hollywood, however if you are expecting a lighthearted tale movie romance and glamour please check those expectations at the front page, this book is definitely not for you.
I'd like to thank Picador for sending us a copy of this book to review.
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