I've been fascinated with the early history of Hollywood since I was a teenager. There's something ridiculously glamorous about the 1930s in particular probably due to the fact Hollywood knew it was their job to allow the masses enduring a depression a means of escape from drudge, poverty and fear.
There are many rags to riches tales from that era with girls desperate for fame flocking to Hollywood "to be in the movies" with sadly only a scant few succeeding. The era was famous too for talent scouts approaching pretty girls with the suggestion they might make it in the industry and if the talent scount was honest a screen test may follow. If he wasn't the casting couch would beckon.
Kerry Jamieson's novel "The Forgotten Lies" is set in Hollywood during this era, in 1935 to be precise. Jamieson was born in South Africa but has been based in the US for several years.
The book tells the story of three film starlets who live in a house leased to them by their studio in Hollywood.
Each woman is very different, and each has reason to be wary of one another. Charlotte is a strikingly beautiful young actress who is desperate to win the major role she needs to become a star. Charlotte regularly visits her father in a convent run sanatorium where he has stayed since being attacked on a train.
Verbena, who comes from a moneyed Massachussets family is equally desperate to win the same role as she becomes painfully aware of the fact that being 28 means it's probably her last shot. Ivy is a far more easy going actress who really just wants to settle down and get married and doesn't seem to take stardom particularly seriously but has formed a strong alliance with Verbena which seems to have taken a knock with the arrival of Charlotte in the house.
One day the circus comes to town and Verbena takes Charlotte and Ivy along. Charlotte goes white when she sees which circus it is and refuses to leave the car to watch it, pricking Verbena's curiosity which is fuelled by her disdain and envy for Charlotte. Verbena's digging reveals Charlotte has something to hide but the question is...what?
"The Forgotten Lies" is for the most part an enjoyable book. It's well written and Jamieson has created a story which builds up slowly and I was put in mind of the act of peeling an onion as each revelation was made. Jamieson has written believable and vivid characters and whilst some of the minor ones tend to veer towards caricature, by and large each one is very well drawn and she has a knack for ensuring her reader gets to know most of them very, very well.
This isn't a great literary masterpiece however - it's escapist hokum similar to so many of the films made at the time. Jamieson is an aficionado of the classic Hollywood era and her knowledge shines through as she mixes her fictional characters with people who really were there at the time, such as Charlie Chaplin. She creates a male film star who has a public image as a wonderful family man but who has been repeatedly unfaithful to to the wife he doesn't love. There are hints of Spencer Tracy in this character, and Jamieson has made use of the discovery of actresses such as Lana Turner when describing how Charlotte decides to travel from Florida to Hollywood.
In amongst the glamour however there is another sub plot involving the actresses' maid, Allegra. Allegra has come to Hollywood from Mexico where she has been left destitute following the death of her father. Allegra at first seems to be an inconsequential character but Jamieson fleshes her out and she acts as a wonderful metaphor for the latent discrimination towards the poor and those of a different ethnicity at the time.
For all the book is enjoyable there are a couple of howlers that I spotted. First of all there is a character who describes his childhood in Ireland's Galway and recalls a game he played with his brothers which involved "the wind blowing in off the North Sea". As the North Sea is located several hundred miles to the east of Ireland this jumped out at me immediately.
Secondly in a section where Allegra discusses the loss of her father she recalls travelling to Spain and laments the loss of her uncle who she claims died in the Civil War. The Spanish Civil War didn't start until 1936 but the book is set in 1935. Perhaps I am being pedantic in bringing these errors up but they really jumped out at me and revealed a sloppiness of research and editing which grated a little.
It's a pity because otherwise this is a very readable book. I started it on a Friday night and finished reading it by Saturday evening, and that's a credit to Jamieson's writing style.
The book contains several love scenes and I have to give Jamieson credit here for writing in a believable manner. I have read so many which are either ridiculous or resort to base language which isn't interesting, believable or even vaguely erotic. Jamieson displays a wonderful skill when discussing sex, especially in some later scenes where the encounters are wholly inappropriate.
If you enjoy a book that contains mystery, intrigue and glamour then "The Forgotten Lies" should entertain you. Almost every character you encounter has something to hide and Jamieson ensures the reader's desire to discover what these secrets and lies are will keep them turning the page. It's not the kind of book I normally go for but I was pleasantly surprised - but for the irritating errors.