(Reviewed by Shannon Bloomstran AUG 1, 2002)The star of Lisa Jewell's latest novel, One-Hit Wonder is a young, painfully self-obsessed, single British woman. When I agreed to review it, I promised the editor here that I would, under no circumstances, compare it to another novel starring a young, painfully self-obsessed, single British woman. You know, the one recently made into a feature film in which Renee Zellweger ballooned up to a hefty 120 pounds to play the title character. The one that has seemingly launched a whole new sub-genre of light fiction that I like to call Brit Chick Lit. So I am being a good Girl Scout and am keeping my promise to review it on its own merits. It's not as slick or funny as the unmentioned novel in question, but it is an engaging, fast-paced read that does prompt a little bit of thought.
One-Hit Wonder tells the story of Devon singleton, Ana Wills, a gawky young twenty-something nicknamed Towering Twiglet by her glamorous estranged half-sister Bee (Belinda) Bearhorn. Bee, the one-hit wonder of the title, was a 1980's era pop star, the British version of Madonna. In Ana's mind, Bee lived surrounded by adoring on-lookers, hopping from trendy club to trendy club swaddled in sequins and red lipstick. Ana, on the other hand is stuck in middle class, Devon, having lost her job, her boyfriend, and her father within just a few months. These events have left her living with her horribly manipulative mother, Gay, who lives in "an almost psychotic state of self-indulgence." When they hear of thirty-six year old Bee's death several days after its occurrence, the agoraphobic Gay dispatches Ana to London to pack up Bee's apartment and deal with the lawyers. Ana soon discovers that Bee lived a far different life than she had imagined and sets off on a journey to discover just who her sister was and in the process discovers herself as well.
It's a serviceable plot, told mostly through Ana's eyes, although we do get glimpses of Bee through flashbacks told in her own voice. Jewell does a good job of moving back and forth through time, showing just enough of Bee to further the plot line. Bee is definitely the most complex and interesting character. The supporting cast amounts to little more than a collection of eccentricities, no fully developed people anywhere. This collection includes a horrid mother, a nymphomaniac flatmate and a mysterious paraplegic teenager somehow bound to Bee. The mother, Gay, rages to Ana, "It should have been you . . .You should be dead. Not her. Not my Belinda. She had everything to live for---looks, money, personality, talent. And you have nothing . . .You've got no friends and no boyfriend, no job, nothing. You are pointless . . .You're alive and Belinda's dead." This from a woman who hadn't seen her daughter in years. None of these characters actually carry much weight within the story, it's as if Jewell wanted to people her novel with quirky characters whether or not they serve any actual purpose.
One facet of One-Hit Wonder is Ana's sweet, but heavy-handed transformation from skinny ugly duckling to trendy swan. Ana can't believe she, a tall thin brunette with long hair and striking eyes, could ever be considered even passably attractive. Come on, what rock is she living under? Jewell paints on this "aw shucks" persona as thickly as an aging actress might apply her foundation. In describing herself Ana thinks, "she was just waste-of-space old Ana Wills, unattractive and disappointing second daughter . . .naïve country bumpkin and pretty much born-again virgin." I can hear my mother singing in response, "Nobody likes me, everybody hates me. Think I'll go eat worms." In unraveling the mystery of Bee's life, Ana comes to know, in more ways than one, Bee's onetime chauffeur, Flint. He helps Ana come into her own as a person, helping her to see her true beauty. This creaky plot device also is a thorn in my side. Why can't this seemingly intelligent young woman find herself without falling into bed with a gorgeous, sensitive man? A better story might have ended with a more confident Ana ready to pursue a mature relationship. As it is, the novel ends too neatly; it is little more than a fairy tale.
It is fun, however to hear the British dialect. Jewell, a London native, definitely creates believable dialogue, at least to this Yank. I have since vowed to include terms like "grotty," in my everyday vocabulary. I think it is the British equivalent of grubby, but doesn't it sound so much more posh? The novel also provides some interesting meditations on the effects of instant celebrity. In a world where popular culture seems to change by the nanosecond, Jewell does provide some good food for thought in a conversation between Gay and Ana on Bee's death.
"Mum," sighed Ana, "I hate to break this to you, but I don't think anyone cares."
"Of course they care. They're obsessed, these days, the papers, obsessed with celebrity---any celebrity."
"Yes, but, Mom---Bee wasn't a celebrity."
"Of course she was."
"No, Mum---she was an ex-celebrity. Nobody cares about ex-celebrities."
"What---not even when they're dead?"
"Not even when they're dead."
Since this is essentially a fairy tale, expect a happy ending. I'm sure Lisa Jewell is happy too, especially if they can get Renee Zellweger to play Ana in the movie.
- Amazon readers rating: from 49 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Ralph's Party (2000)
- Thirty-Nothing (2001)
- One-Hit Wonder (2002)
- A Friend of the Family (2003)
- Vince and Joy (2006)
- Roommates Wanted (2008)
- The Truth About Melody Brown (2010)
- After the Party (2011)
- The Making of Us (2012)
- Before I Met You (2013)
- The House We Grew Up In (2014)
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- The official Web site for Lisa Jewell
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About the Author:
Lisa Jewell, born in 1968, was brought up in the Totteridge part of North London. She studied art and design at Barnet College for two years and went on to Epsom School of Art and Design to study Fashion Illustration and Promotion and two years later left education to battle her way through the world of fashion for five years. After she was laid off, she took on a job as receptionist and embarked upon Creative Writing at her local Adult Education College. On a dare from a friend she wrote the first three chapters of Ralph's Party in a month and then sent it off to ten agents. When one agent showed interest and wanted to see the rest, she accepted an invitation to move in with her boyfriend, leaving her time to finish the novel. One year later she presented the rest of the novel to this agent.
Lisa now lives in West Hampstead with her husband and their cat and writes books for a living.