Friday, June 28, 2013

Cephalopod Coffeehouse: Hollywood by Gore Vidal

Okay, so I'm throwing my hat in the ring for the Cephalopod Coffeehouse Book Club with my review of Gore Vidal's historical novel Hollywood. And boy, did I pick a doozy!

You see, I have this thing for historical novels, a real love for the way an author can weave history into a fascinating tale, using names and places from so long ago. Unfortunately for any poor soul wishing to read this "novel" way too many names of people you probably haven't even heard of get thrown into the mix. In the end, this "novel" reads like nothing more than a history book that I would've been forced to read in high school.

Oh, where to start! I guess I'll start with how many names get dropped throughout the novel, most of them occurring within the first hundred pages. Sure, there are names that are easily recognizable, like Woodrow Wilson, W.G. Harding, the Roosevelts, and so on. But then there are many many other obscure names muddying the storytelling. To be quite honest, I wasn't sure who to follow, who held the most importance in this wordy storyline. I'm going to say three people pop out because they are followed the closest when it comes to POV: Jess, Caroline, and Burden.

Next up is the fact that the book is called Hollywood, but it takes over a hundred pages to even get to Hollywood. Vidal spends more time mucking through the halls of Congress and the White House than he ever spends on the vivid transformation taking place on the West Coast. More than anything, I found this to be completely frustrating. I picked out the book because the main focus described would be Hollywood and those early golden years when everything in the film business was beginning to take shape. Instead of a larger view of what was taking place out in California, Vidal focuses on Caroline's character, how she gets roped into making "photo-plays", and then we're right back in Washington D.C. listening to the banal history concerning Wilson and WWI. If you have no interest in Wilson's WWI policies or all the names getting dropped for the 1920 presidential election, then I suggest you find your historical novel fix elsewhere.

Vidal's writing just gets tedious. I'd always wanted to read one of his novels, but now I feel like I'm kicking myself over having chosen this book. History is important, but when a storyteller can't create a story beyond historical facts then he's only going to lose his audience. In the end, this is how I felt every time I picked up to read  Hollywood:

Yep, it was that boring!
Make sure to check out other reviewers takes on their chosen books this week!


18 comments:

  1. I have never read Gore Vidal. Maybe I'm wrong, but his books always seem like more work than fun to me. I think the cat agrees :-)

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    1. I definitely think the cat agrees, Jenny!

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  2. 'History is important, but when a storyteller can't create a story beyond historical facts then he's only going to lose his audience.'

    Yup. Then it reads like a lesson. If you'd wanted a lesson, you'd have read an academic text, am I right? :D

    I'm with you, M&M, in that I love a good story that alludes to historical events, places and people. There's a particular charm about that. Very appealing and enjoyable when done right.

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    1. And I didn't want to read an academic text!

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  3. I am so glad I returned this immediately to the library! Did you actually finish it, MM?

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    1. I have yet to finish it, but dang it, I will even if it kills me! Then I can say that I've at least read one of his novels and don't recommend him as a writer. I'm a little over halfway through, but the pacing has yet to pick up. Gore Vidal is quite long-winded!

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  4. Well since I suffer from insomnia maybe I should get this so that it puts me to sleep :)

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  5. I'm always a sucker for historical fiction, but probably not this one. There must be one out there, though, right? Something based on the golden era of movie-making? With a beautiful naive character (possibly the protagonist's great grandma?) who has to learn how things work? A book with good and evil ingeniously twisted in a bygone era? Where is this book?

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    1. Unfortunately, it seems like most novels about Hollywood have a dark view of the film industry ("Valley of the Dolls" and "Mommy Dearest" come to mind). I would also like to see some good in one of these stories. I was very young when I read Valley and was super disappointed with the ending (and the message).

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    2. You know, I wish I could name one good one written about the early days of Hollywood, but I can't think of one right off the bat! Truth be told, I think Lorena's right: most books written about Hollywood tend to dwell on the darker side of things, kind of like books written about Las Vegas. Maybe that's because there's such a feeling of the underbelly of life as a whole when it comes to cities like these.

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  6. Sister Mary, that cat is HILARIOUS! This book reminds me of a novel about old Hollywood that I came across YEARS ago but could never force myself to read called "Moviola". As I recall, it was a fictional account of the lives of movie stars like Vivien Leigh and Greta Garbo but it also seemed to lack focus. Like you say, too many characters and subplots can easily turn into a super boring read, especially if it's all narrated. When was this novel published?

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  7. It was published in 1990. One thing I've noticed about historical novels written in the late 80s and 90s is the fact that the authors put so much tedious research into the books. And most of it's not even necessary! One author I like for his North and South series is John Jakes, but his later novels like Savannah and Charleston are just chock full of facts that his characters have to move around. He even admitted in one of his Afterwards that he deliberately placed certain events into the story even though his characters had to race to be at the scene because he just loved that one little fact and wanted to use it. Doesn't make much sense to me!

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  8. So boring it makes kitties go to sleep?? Wow! hehe

    Pity when we're disappointed by a read like this. But there must be another book of his that would be a good read! I personally know nothing about the dude.

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  9. I'd like to give him another try, but I'm a little leery about the prospect of reading another one of his books, because if this one bores a cat stiff then what does his others do?!

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  10. I've never read Gore Vidal. I definitely won't read this one!

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  11. What a good idea to do this review as a blog hop. Where can I join, lol!

    I must admit I've read quite a few Gore Vidal books, but not recently. They are books for a time when you're not in a hurry. He is very long winded...never in a hurry. Hollywood sounds frustrating.

    Denise

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    1. Hey Denise!

      Yes, Vidal is long winded and must be taken in small doses! If you want to join the book review club for the month of July, just go to this link: http://armchairsquid.blogspot.com/

      Thanks for dropping by!

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