In 2003, American audiences were treated to CALENDAR GIRLS, a little gem of a film starring Helen Mirren based on the experiences a group of women in their 40s, 50s and 60s in the north of England who posed starkers for a year 2000 calendar to raise money for leukemia research, and in memory of John Baker, the husband of one of the ladies and a locally well-regarded and much loved Assistant National Park Officer in the Yorkshire Dales, who'd died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in July 1998. Of course, the nudity, both in the film and on the calendar, was tastefully presented, with the naughty bits obscured and most definitely "no front bottoms". The calendar's concept, and the driving force behind its creation, came from Tricia Stewart, a close friend of John and Angela Baker. In real life, Tricia ran a medical software company with her husband, Ian, and taught yoga and Pilates on the side. This book, CALENDAR GIRL, is Tricia's story of the 2-year flurry of frenetic activity that the calendar catalyzed, and the roughly 300,000 copies that were sold in Britain and the United States.
First of all, let me unequivocally state that the film adaptation was wonderful, and I deeply admire author Alicia Stewart for the originality of her idea and for the hard work and dedication she and her colleagues demonstrated in getting the calendar created and marketed. What started out almost as a lark burgeoned into a monster with a life of its own - as such things are wont to do - involving a grueling schedule of domestic and foreign media interviews, appearances on television talk shows and at book-signings both at home and in the U.S., product endorsements, the film, and considerable fame. And the Leukemia Research Fund in Britain and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of America received a bunch of money. It also destroyed friendships, almost administered the coup-de-grace to a marriage, and, as a final insult, subjected Tricia and Ian to hateful articles in the gutter press. However, that tribute said ...
I realized what was wrong with CALENDAR GIRL about two-thirds into it. It has the flow of a diary, and I gather that Stewart used such as the primary source for her narrative. Trouble is, she failed to edit out so very much that was trivial and, frankly, numbingly boring. As a random example of the story's "feel" , which is typical of the book throughout:
"Lynda had had an invite from Preethi, the Indian girl we'd met at the bookfair, to go to her book launch at Dover Street, by the Ritz, on Thursday night. It was the same day as a shoot in London for the "Mail's You" magazine. Lynda had sent her a calendar, which was in her office. She was having a stressful day organizing her launch and when she went in her office, the calendar fell off the shelf. So she phoned Lynda who was also miserable and the depression lifted for both of them."
Then later, when they meet this Preethi for the launch dinner:
"Sunflowers mean happiness and are Preethi's mum's favourite flower. We met her mum and dad and lots of her friends and drank champagne. Her book focuses on following your dreams, following the African dancer. Later after speeches an African dancer appeared and a band, it was brilliant."
All of the above - and so much more in a similar vein -should've been left out, but perhaps wasn't because the resulting volume wouldn't have been much more than a pamphlet in length.
I really wanted to award at least three stars because Tricia's heart is in the right place, but just couldn't because I struggled to finish CALENDAR GIRL, and was so relieved when I arrived at the last period. I highly recommend the film, but not this well-intentioned but fatally flawed book.