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he: A Novel Hardcover – 24 Aug 2017
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An invaluable feel for a period and a fascinating, if awkward personality. Writing the story as a novel rather than just a straight biography gives the tale an extra layer of humanity and reality. (Maxim Jakubowski Crime Time)
John Connolly has skilfully recreated the unseen side of a perceived golden age and yet it is also a compassionate study of the tensions between commercial demands and popularity and the almost unattainable artistic integrity gifted people destroy themselves in pursuit of; for all that it is no less a love letter to one of the most enduring and beloved partnerships in cinema history. (Malachyconeyblogspot.com)
Rewarding and uplifting. Connolly has stepped outside the crime genre to publish a literary novel of real merit. (nudgebooks.com)
John Connolly recreates the golden age of Hollywood for an intensely compassionate study of the tension between commercial demands and artistic integrity and the human frailties behind even the greatest of artists.See all Product description
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Top customer reviews
The element of all these works that sets them apart for me is the wonderful prose, it's lyrical, flowing and fantastically descriptive without every being flowery or unnecessarily obtuse. "Literary" you might say. And, so it has naturally come to pass, in "he" we now have, as described in the blurb, Connolly's first full on literary novel.
It's always interesting when an author is given the freedom to pursue a project alongside their "bread and butter" novels. Logic would dictate that, in taking a wild detour from one's usual output, the side project will still sell but not in the same numbers. Conversely, it could become a critical darling, end up a few influential media-based reading groups and become a massive hit which overshadows the "day job".
The good news is, as Connolly is such a versatile and skilled writer it really could do very well indeed.
None of which is to say this was written with any commercial aspiration, this is clearly a novel written with a lot of love and affection for its subject and one Connolly has had slowly cooking for a number of years now.
The novel itself, is a "fictional" but fact based look back on the life of Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy fame. It's quite a sweeping vista as it takes in everything from his younger years of learning to entertain right through to his dying days. The novel jumps back and forth between an aged and decrepit Laurel seeing out his retired years in L.A. and looking back on the past. And a colourful past it is, we are taken through his introductions into showbiz (he spent a lot of time travelling with and learning from Charlie Chaplin "Chaplin should be in jail" he muses at one point in reference to Chaplin's liking for young girls), his meeting and partnership with Oliver Hardy (or "Babe" as Laurel refers to him) and many marriages and breakups.
The style of writing is very different to that of the Charlie Parker novels. There are no speech marks for dialogue which is jarring at first but you quickly get used to it. The novel is told through Laurel's eyes and mind, though not in first person, and, as such, puts you right in the centre of everything that is going on, you really are right there in the room with him.
This is a fine piece of work that, despite being slightly niche, will undoubtedly find an audience. Obviously it should be interesting reading for Oliver an Hardy fans and anyone interested in the "Golden Age" of Hollywood. For those people, this will be a five star book. I have only given it 4 because, reading it as a big fan of the author, it's not the sort of book I would necessarily have read otherwise and I enjoy the Parker series more so can't really rank it equally from a personal point of view. The fact that I could still enjoy and be absorbed by this speaks volumes for the skill with which it has been written and I shall shall be very interested to watch its progress upon release. I hope it does very well.
Arthur Stanley Jefferson changed his name to Stan Laurel in 1931 and was, of course, famous for being one half of Laurel and Hardy – along with Oliver Hardy, or ‘Babe’ as he is known throughout this novel. Stan first went to America in 1910, along with the star of the show, Charlie Chaplin. Stan was a failure on the tour and returned to Britain, before returning to the States in 1912, again to understudy Chaplin.
Veering towards an elderly, dying Stan Laurel, now retired and living with his memories, and the reminiscences of his life, we are taken through his life, career, marriages and love affairs. There are his early struggles to find success. Obviously ambitious and longing for stardom, Stan longs to be Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, but realises he can’t do it alone. Enter Babe Hardy, ‘the funniest fat comedian in the world.’ A man who has had his own struggles but, in him, Stan finds his soul mate and, as becomes obvious, the person he loves most in the world. Babe, larger than life, drinks, gambles, plays golf and, along with Stan, finds stardom.
Along with the successes are difficulties, of course. We are taken through vaudeville, early Hollywood, divorces, contracts and film studio struggles. If you already know a lot about Stan Laurel’s life, this may not tell you too much you do not already know. However, this is obviously a fictional biography and I found it absolutely fascinating. Although I remember Laurel and Hardy films from my childhood (and my husband is a huge fan), I really did not know much about him at all. I enjoyed reading these recollections and memories; haunted by the ghosts of Stan’s son, who died at only nine days old, Charlie Chaplin and, always, and most movingly, Babe Hardy. A wonderful read and I must, finally, get to those Charlie Parker novels, as I loved John Connolly’s writing.
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