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Obsessive Passion Tempered by Analytical Insight
on 15 March 2014
This book is a strange amalgam of biography and autobiography in proportions roughly two to one. The rare alloy is a "tour de force" - an intensely personal eulogy to an individual whose charisma and talent preserved in sight and sound will long survive her short but eventful life.
The first chapters best encapsulate the obsessive nature of the devotion Judy Garland (née Frances Ethel Gumm) unwittingly unleashed in many of her fans, some born after her death in 1969 at the age of forty-seven. There is no doubt that Susie Boyt became enchanted very young. If you substitute in the phrase "What a friend I have in Jesus !" the words "Judy Garland" for "Jesus" you will have some notion of what it was like to catch the virus young ! Effectively it became nothing less than an intimate relationship, one to one !
However the author writes this book from the perspective of someone now mature, and if she was not born under the balencing sign of Libra she should have been because later chapters explore the areas of unhappiness this gifted star encountered and we are then displayed a totally different picture. Judy developped an addiction to alcohol and her perscribed medication, especially sleeping pills. With an inability to pace her life, because of or in spite of her five husbands, she somehow let the studios work her too hard, and her health broke down. It would seem the fans, (all but the bad-crazy ones), cannot bear to think of this and each secretly believes that had her life somehow touched his or hers a rescue of sorts would have been achieved and the story would be different.
This is really a powerful account of an obsession. Susie Boyt takes the subject of her obsessive interest and analyses the symbiosis between the image of the hero and the imagination of the hero-worshipper. But she really takes it a step further in as much as she is not content with a description of this cerebral process. She crosses the pond (probably frequently) and interviews Judy's daughters, Lorna Luft and Lisa Minelli. She sits next to Judy's much loved son Joe Luft during a collage of movie clips of her best-known work. She contacts Marc Chardonnay, an arch-bishop of Judy memorabilia, and visits with him her grave in the mausoleum at the Ferncliffe Cemetary, Hartsdale. She tracks down to a boutique hotel in London Judy's fifth husband, Mickey Rooney, and interviews him. Her passion drives her and she becomes quite indefatigable.
Susie Boyt's style of writing is all her own and it reads like an intimate account she would only share with a trusted friend. Moreover, she has something akin to vistavision and can write in full technicolor prose ! This combination of lucidity, devotion and honesty cannot be worth less than five stars.