The latest of my 99p Amazon Daily Deals I actually started reading this some time ago and got sidetracked, which I think says something about the beginning of this book. The book’s start is pleasant but doesn’t really grab you, making it easy to put to one side if something more interesting turns up. This is a shame as the middle part of the book was interesting.
I should probably let you know at this stage that the book is a fictionalised biography of the life of the film star Merle Oberon from her time as a young woman in Calcutta to the point she marries the director Alexander Korda.
Before reading this I didn’t know much about who Merle Oberon was. I vaguely remembered that she was in the film of Wuthering Heights, which I loathe because it is given a happy ending.
What I have learned from this book is that whilst she was alive Estelle Merle O’Brien Thompson made sure her background was entirely fictional to hide the fact she was Anglo-Indian, which would have made her persona non grata in Hollywood.
The book takes what facts have been discovered about her and turns them into a reasonably plausible story of her life in the 1920s and 1930s.
The book gives a good flavour of the lives of Anglo-Indian people trying to be accepted as more English than Indian to improve their lot in life. This is interesting from a sociology perspective but the least interesting part of Estelle’s story. And I think that because I read this section in dribs and drabs I kept forgetting who Estelle was going to become.
The parts about the young girl and her mother working out how to survive in cold, dreary London are really interesting. This is where the story starts to come more alive as Estelle moves into the film industry and moves up the ladder, changing her name and history to facilitate it.
The book doesn’t sidestep the numerous people Merle had affaires with although it does edit some of them out and cleans them up into “love affaires” rather than rungs on the career ladder, which I suspect they were.
The most annoying parts of the book are where it casts certain people as villains of the story when there is no evidence they were, for example the part where Vivian Leigh blackmails Merle into not taking a screen test for the part of Scarlett O’Hara. This doesn’t seem very fair to me. It’s ok to cast villains when they are wholly fictional but not when they were once living, breathing people and there is no evidence of it.
The true end of the book occurs around the death of Oberon’s mother when she learns that her mother was actually her grandmother and her sister, long estranged from their mother, was her birth mother…and her father was still her father! This must have been a shocking revelation, assuming Estelle grew up without knowing the truth.
The actual end of the book is a summary of what happened after this revelation and Oberon’s marriage to Alexander Korda. This is simply a list of facts and spoiled the book for me. I would have much preferred a suggested further reading list or a link to an online biography.
Overall, this was an interesting book but I think I would have preferred a genuine biography to this fictionalised one.