Personality by Andrew O’Hagan was first published in 2003 and it won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize that year. I have to admit that that was the only reason I read this one as I have a bit of a personal challenge going on – trying to read all the books that have won that prize.
The author does begin with a note to the reader claiming that this is a work of fiction, but in truth it is very heavily based on the life of the Scottish child star Lena Zavaroni who becane wildly famous at the age of ten when she won Opportunity Knocks in the 1970s, for several weeks running. O’Hagan didn’t even bother to change ‘his’ personality’s place of birth or family circumstances. It didn’t feel like the 1970s and he got names wrong – Quivers Jelly might sound right but it was actually Chivers.
Young Maria Tambini of Rothesay, Isle of Bute, whose parents own a cafe in the town is well known locally for her amazing singing voice and when a talent scout is in the audience at a concert where Maria is performing the upshot is a spot on the very popular talent show Opportunity Knocks. A warning to readers from me is that the ghastly human being Hughie Green appears quite a lot in this book, but as a decent human being, not the vile man that we all discovered him to be after his death, although most of us probably had our suspicions. So at the age of 13 Maria is an international star, living in London with her female manager and her husband and having very little contact with her own family. Surprise surprise she develops anorexia nervosa and does a tour of TV shows talking about her problems, just as Lena did!
There is one sex scene in the book between Maria and her very caring and loving boyfriend, not that you would get that idea from the way it is written and the language used to describe it is just so wrong for the situation. I was wondering if O’Hagan was hoping to win that Bad Sex prize.
The only difference is the ending, and by that time we’re getting into a version of the crazy fan à la John Lennon, with a twist to that too. Hurrah, the author used his imagination. I cannot imagine how this book won the James Tait Black Prize, there must have been many better books published in 2003.
I so hope that the next prize winner I read is better. I’m so annoyed that he ripped off a very sad life, she was used and abused enough in her lifetime.