“ Author: Marsha Hunt / Genre: Fiction „
Have you ever been mislead by the blurb on the back of the book and the book was different to what you expected. I was with Like Venus Fading by Marsha Hunt, former model, singer and lover of Mick Jagger
The blurb says the book is about Irene OBrien, a fictional black Marilyn Monroe who cheats death in 1965 after an accidental overdose to change her identity and live in relative obscurity. The book is based around the fictional Irene O Brien recalling her memories of the different stages and personas of her life.
On the face of it I found the book very interesting but very depressing. The book is a rags to riches and back to rags tale about the perils of fame. It starts off when Irene is 8 years old in 1929. The book takes us on a journey of a black persons experience of American history in the 20th century covering events such as the Depression, through WW2 then onto the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Hunt really has researched her book as the descriptions of events and places are rich and really helped me understand the circumstances of the era.
There is still racism today but it is difficult to imagine the level of segregation in the US (especially in the Southern states) where blacks could not enter white areas, use the same public toilets, drinking fountains and had to sit at the back of public transport. One of the moving and disturbing scenes early on in the book is Irenes account of a gang of white men lynching and murdering a black man in Mississippi just because of the colour of his skin. It really is a horrific thing to think about.
The book was quite short at 292 pages and it should have been an easy read. It was to begin with, as I found the account of Irenes childhood in Camden New Jersey, Mississippi then Los Angles very engrossing. However as the book progressed and become more miserable and depressing I found it became harder to read. Everything that could go wrong for the character went wrong. Attempted abortion, child abuse, and rape the list goes on and on. It is not one to cheer you up.
The characterisation is not the best in this. I found most of the supporting characters such as Irenes mother, sister and husband to be quite grotesque but perhaps it is meant to be so as they are written from the point of view of Irene.
This is the review I had written in my head when reading the book but I had missed one key fact out that I only gleaned by reading the acknowledgements. The book is fictional to a point as Irene OBrien and her life story is heavily based on a real film star Dorothy Dandridge the first black actress to receive an Oscar nomination in the best actress category. I researched her life and found that there were incredible similarities. Knowing this I felt great sympathy that Dorothy Dandridge had such a tragic life.
It is a book I would recommend to people interested in the glory days of Hollywood an also those interested in American social and Black history. It is not a book I read again .
This might be a book you might have to hunt for (please excuse the pun). It does not look like it is still in print. It can be bought on the Amazon marketplace. I managed to get my copy in Oxfam for £2.50. I doubt I would have paid the full pubslihers pirce of £6.99.