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Before reading this book, I didn't know a whole lot about Marilyn Monroe. In fact, 'blonde actress with a penchant for wearing fab dresses and standing in front of wind machines' pretty much summed it up. I even mis-read the cover at first and thought it was "The M&M Girl", and knowing as little as I did at the time, it didn't occur to me that revealing her as a closet candy fiend might be unlikely. I've seen no more than a couple of her films, and not read much about her, so I was intrigued when this book came through - a fictitious autobiography of the girl, or as the front cover rather contradictingly says, "Marilyn Monroe by herself... By Tara Hanks"
Because I didn't know that much about Miss Monroe, I can't tell you how accurate this book is, though I think it's probably a logical guess that it wouldn't have got this far if it wasn't reasonably in line with widely accepted facts and assumptions about the actress. What I can tell you, however, is that's it's a brilliant, believable read that I enjoyed more than I expected to.
It's a weird and wonderful look into her life, from her childhood in foster homes and orphanages to her many marriages and relationships and her eventual death. The book is written as a sort of autobiographical diary which focuses a lot on the who and the what with much less emphasis on Miss Monroe's feelings about the events going on in her life - in fact, there was an interesting absence of emotions documented throughout the entire book. Something else there is a notable lack of is reference time points - only a few times in the book is the year mentioned, and since her real age and public age don't always correlate, these are no help either. The passing of time is slightly confusing because a new paragraph can occur anything from minutes to years later, and there are no hints to clarify this for you.
Though her fame certainly adds something, I think this would have been a really interesting read even if she wasn't a well known name. Her family background is both unusual and confusing, her climb through the studio ranks is inspiring and entertaining, and her personal life in adulthood out-scandals any issue of OK! or Heat magazines.
There were two things that niggled me about the book, though neither could be helped. One was the never-ending list of characters who appeared, some briefly and some for an extended stay. Keeping the Joes and the Toms and the Jimmies and the Johns separate took some real concentration, but since these were the important people in her life, it would have been remiss to exclude them just to make things easier for the reader. Similarly, I thought the last fifty pages dragged a bit, but if you're telling a real life story you can hardly exclude massive chunks just to keep it a tighter story. If this had been a properly fictitious story, then I think it would have been a completely different read, and her death, if it still came, might have made it in around the page 250 mark. Still, at under 350 pages in total, this is hardly a long book.
There is a lot written about Miss Monroe, and I suppose you could assume it would be quite easy to write a book like this, with so much documented history to refer to, but I would take a different view. This isn't just a string of facts knitted together in chronological order like a Wikipedia entry - it's a proper, engaging story that is a really fun and educational read. I learnt a lot through reading, not just of the actress's love for pills and booze but also about the politics of the day, but at the same time it didn't seem at all like a history lesson.
Published by UKA Press (Nov 2007)
RRP: £10.99 - on Amazon it's only 50p cheaper and there are not many used versions, suggesting it's one people want to hold on to (or has not sold that many)
This is an amended review of an original published on www.thebookbag.co.uk