It's been a long time since I've read a book like this. Meaning one which I struggled to put it down and am pretty likely to go out and buy. Having read Laurie Grahams' The Dress Circle and The future homemakers of America, this book is just as fresh as any of the other novels she has produced.
This book describes the life of the Boffs, through the views and ideas of Cledwyn Boff (Cled). He's a working class man from the northern parts of England living with his mum and brother Selwyn (Sel or Mr Starlight) Together they form a duet with Cled on piano and Sel as the lead vocalist.
Although they are brothers there is a clear difference between the two of them. Aside from the 6 year age gap Sel is clearly the more flamboyant of the them. Wanting to interact with the audience and being completely determined that he is going to make a name for himself in America.
It's clear from the off that their Mother prefers Sel to Cled. When it is Cled who hears first from a music agency he is told to not boast and go on about it so much but when a letter arrives for Sel, a few days later he gets the complete opposite reaction.
I never quite worked out the reason why she felt different towards Cled but it seemed that she was always putting him down. There are however, a few times when you see small glimmers that she does love him but they are fleeting moments. Mostly happening when they are alone together.
It is also quite blatant to the reader from the start that Sel might be gay, I got the idea from the idea that he was buying cushions and ornaments to decorate his new home and then there was the more prominent moments when he was inviting young boys to spend time with him in his dressing room.
This is the underlying theme throughout the book. Sel refusing to admit to his fans that he is gay, possibly because he feels it would damage his reputation and loose the respect he wants.
From the front cover I believed this to be a completelly different book to what I was expecting. It crosses over onto a wide variety of subjects-the attitude in the media to being gay at the time, affairs, having three fathers appearing, family members who aren't what they seem and AIDs.
I enjoyed this book simply because it's different from other books that are around at the moment. It features different mini plots throughout which I think is what is needed. Not concentrating completely on the relationship between the two brothers.
It is a powerful book making you think all the way through about why the characters are behaving in the way they do. I haven't read many novels where the author has made you be able to do that so successfully.
The only problem I had with this book is that some smaller characters I felt were not needed to be mentioned so much. Jennifer Jane is the daughter of Cled, but I do not feel as though she had any impact on the story so couldn't understand why she was there.
You can get this in hardcover from Amazon for £19.95 but if you want it cheaper you can get it in paperback however it will have to be from other sellers in the market place. The retail price is £7.99 and at the moment I believe it is still doing the rounds in book shops.
Definetly worth the read.
~About The Author~
Mr Starlight was the 8th fiction novel from Laurie Graham, also the author of Gone with the Windsors and The Future Homemakers of America. Graham grew up in Leicester in the 1950's and now lives in Venice with her husband.
Mr Starlight is a story told from the point of view of Cled Boff; one half the one-time group, the Boff Brothers. Cled leads us through the story of his Birmingham born childhood, absent father and a mother who picked favourites (he wasn't the favourite!) as well as the journey to America that sees his brother, Sel, create the enigmatic Mr Starlight as his onstage persona. Is the dream-life really a dream? What price does Sel pay for creating a persona and not being himself?
Mr Starlight is a book I have really struggled to rate as they are as many good points as bad!
Cled Boff is our narrator for the book and he's far from a pleasant man at all. He's not violent or malicious, just short-sighted, obliviously arrogant and stubborn. Admittedly, these are not traits that should make you dislike someone but it's extremely hard to find any redeeming features about this man. Cled is a fantastic pianist but has never really had the ambition to really push for the limelight. Unsurprisingly, he has never really been in it for any great swathes but never-the-less feels extremely hard-done-by and resentful about the fact that his brother, Sel, did make it even though he arguably has less 'natural' talent. He pretty much 'settles' for a girl he meets off the boat from New York and marries her.
The matriarch of the family also turns out to be an unpleasant character; much more so than Cled. Mrs Boff has her favourite child, Sel, whom she will do anything for, even making a young Cled sleep downstairs so that Sel can get some proper sleep in a room of his own. She goes out of her way to makes Sels life easier even if it means treading on her family at the same time. What makes this even more frustrating as a reader is Cleds inability to really see his mothers actions for what they are and, more crucially, ever do anything about it.
It won't be spoiling anything to say that Sel is gay - his flamboyant character has gotten him a huge female following and he has a persona to uphold. He was born during a time when a person's private life was kept that way: private. But he has repeatedly let every glossy magazine take pictures of him and now, in the 80's, gay rights figures are calling for him to do the team a favour and stop hiding behind the closet door. This was certainly an intriguing look at what continues to be an issue - how do you prevent a stigma being attached to homosexuality if factions of the gay population would rather hide behind closed doors. From the other side of the fence; why should your sexuality define you? However, during the early gay movement there was a greater need for public gay figures who would say "this is me, I'm no different, I just happen to like member of the same sex". Sel, whilst fictional, took the oft-used stance of convincing himself that people did not want to know and he could carry on his life by just ignoring the speculation. A situation made even worse by a brother who, despite having spent most of his 60 years with him, seems to have no idea that he is gay.
The book has some unpleasant people and some difficult subjects that are handled extremely well by Graham. The abundance of unpleasant characters did often make me frustrated - more with their attitudes than anything else and I guess that's the sign of an engaging book that drew me in sufficiently to feel so strongly.
The main problem for though is that there is just too many sub-plots that seemed to be crammed in throughout the book. Absent fathers, affairs, love children; all good family stuff (!) but it really begins to detract from the main story of Cled and Sel especially with the way it appears crow-barred in towards the end.
In the end, this is a well told story with well defined, if difficult to empathise with, characters. Difficult issues are handled well, but not really explored fully enough due to the need to tie up the many subplots. If Graham had stuck to the main theme I think this would have been great book. As it is, it's a slightly better than average tale that meanders around just a little too much for me.
Mr Starlight was published by HarperPerennial in Great Britain in Jul 2006 and is 316 pages long.
The retail price for the paperback is £7.99 but it can be found on amazon.co.uk much cheaper. They are currently selling used copies from 83 pence plus P&P - not bad!
© of funkimunki. Also posted on caio.co.uk under jonescraiga