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Book Review: A STAR IS BORED, Byron Lane

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Book Review: A STAR IS BORED, Byron Lane

Charlie hates his job and loathes his life even more. Suicide is never far from his thoughts. His car, like his life, is idling outside the Hollywood home of Kathi Kannon, star of stage and screen and People magazine's worst dressed list. The award-winning actress, known for her role as Priestess Talara in an iconic blockbuster sci-fi film, has battled both mental health and drug abuse, and is in search of an assistant who might encourage her to focus on her writing.

So begins a working relationship quite unlike any other, which gradually blossoms into a deep, candid and heart-warming friendship. Kathi may be centre stage, but Charlie learns it's about time he put his own life and his future in the spotlight.

It is the job of the writer to absorb us in an environment removed from our own. Most of us are unfamiliar with the world inhabited by Hollywood movie stars and have little idea of what being a celebrity assistant exactly entails. Byron Lane spent three years in this role, working for the late Carrie Fisher. Although this is not an autobiographical retelling of his time with the much-loved star, it of course influences and informs much of the story.

Lane certainly has his own voice and there's an easy rhythm to the writing, which balances a quirky edge with heartfelt emotion. This, along with the well-developed characters, allows the novel to be immediately inviting and accessible. Kathi could so easily become a caricature, but Lane injects enough substance to prevent this from happening. He has a lot of fun with the character, incorporating a host of eccentricities and numerous laughter-inducing one-liners. The fact that she spontaneously nicknames Charlie 'cockring' is initially humorous but quickly grows strangely endearing.

Lane manages to always rein Kathi in, ensuring she carries the depth and complexities required in order for us to invest ourselves in her character as well as our protagonist. Kathi has a history of addiction, and when she relapses, we genuinely feel for her and wearily exhale during one particularly cringe-worthy, car-crash episode. Lane cleverly and sensitively finds humour even in life's darker aspects, and there is always a flutter of lightheartedness following the bleaker moments, while the realities of drug addiction, suicidal thoughts and self-esteem are tackled with a suitable amount of poignancy.

Like Kathi, beneath the enchanting and extravagant exterior of the novel lies a compelling depth. Lane isn't afraid to address male mental health, a prevalent issue today, and although the temptation would have been there, he refuses to gloss over the fact that life is not like a happy Hollywood movie but is instead often rather hard. We bombard ourselves with our own expectations while trying to live up to those of the people around us and are often plagued by insecurity, loneliness and lack of love.

Some of the strongest writing is in Charlie's recounting of his childhood. Following the untimely death of his mother during a church service, Charlie is raised by his emotionally detached father. He views his son as a foreign entity, unable or perhaps just unwilling to understand or relate to him in any way. He is repulsed by Charlie's effeminate side, leaving us uncomfortable during one particularly painful sequence whereby he forces his son to strip naked and put on his deceased mother's underwear. It is testament to the writer that he so successfully intertwines such heavy elements with the more joyous and jovial.

Upon landing the job that will finally reverse his fortunes and equip him with a sense of purpose, Charlie takes us with him into this new, exciting and erratic world. We embark on a roller coaster of emotion, navigating the turbulent loops of life, facing our fears and experiencing the lows as well as the highs along the way.

If you have no knowledge of or interest in Carrie Fisher and have never seen Star Wars, it doesn't matter. This is a pithy and often hilarious novel about acceptance, positive change, self-discovery and ultimately love. Published this summer, A Star is Bored is that perfect beach book and, much like your favourite holiday destination, you'll want to revisit it.

A Star is Bored is available to purchase from 28 July

Read our interview with author Byron Lane


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