Friday, January 29, 2016

Platinum Doll by Anne Girard

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 29, 2016

Set against the dazzling backdrop of Golden Age Hollywood, novelist Anne Girard tells the enchanting story of Jean Harlow, one of the most iconic stars in the history of film. It's the Roaring Twenties and seventeen-year-old Harlean Carpenter McGrew has run off to Beverly Hills. She's chasing a dream;to escape her small, Midwestern life and see her name in lights.In California, Harlean has everything a girl could want;a rich husband, glamorous parties, socialite friends;except an outlet for her talent. But everything changes when a dare pushes her to embrace her true ambition :to be an actress on the silver screen. With her timeless beauty and striking shade of platinum-blond hair, Harlean becomes Jean Harlow. And as she's thrust into the limelight, Jean learns that this new world of opportunity comes with its own set of burdens. Torn between her family and her passion to perform, Jean is forced to confront the difficult truth;that fame comes at a price, if only she's willing to pay it. Amid a glittering cast of ingenues and Hollywood titans: Clara Bow, Clark Gable, Laurel and Hardy, Howard Hughes, Platinum Doll introduces us to the star who would shine brighter than them all.

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Jean Harlow
My first experience with author Anne Girard took place in 2014 when I read Madame Picasso. The book impressed me and played a large part in prompting my interest in Platinum Doll. I knew next to nothing about Jean Harlow when offered an advanced reader’s edition of the book, but I love old Hollywood and knew I’d enjoyed Girard’s style of writing. Long story short, I accepted the offer and quickly lost myself in Girard’s interpretation of Jean’s story. 

The narrative itself follows Jean’s life from 1927 to 1932, covering the course of her marriage to Charles "Chuck" McGrew and the rise of her professional career. Girard emphasizes the tumultuous relationship of a young couple who don’t see eye to eye and a domineering mother who is hell bent on vicariously living her dreams through the success of her only child. Historically, I found the novel illuminating, but I feel the strength of the narrative is in Girard’s illustration of these relationships and the emotion turmoil they create in Jean.

Chuck was a hard character for me personally, but my struggle to appreciate him highlighted how realistically he’d been written. There is a painful authenticity to him, but at the end of the day I felt his character added much to the narrative. I found Mother Jean equally difficult and on more than one occasion I found myself wishing someone would slap her across the face, but even here, I felt Girard’s ability to manipulate my emotions spoke to her abilities as a storyteller. Last, but certainly not least, I found Jean both complex and endearing. Her personality is sweet and I felt the candid nature of Girard's illustration inviting. There is a certain ambiguity to her professional motivations, but I greatly appreciated her character just the same.  

Atmospherically I think the novel quite fun. Girard takes her readers into the offices of Howard Hughes, onto the back lots of MGM, and into the famed glamour of The Brown Derby. Several golden age and silent film star enjoy cameo roles in the narrative, but I felt the most notable were those minor scenes featuring Clark Gable. Unlike Harlow, I’ve studied the actor, and saw a spark in Girard’s rendering of his personality and persona.

When all is said and done, I feel the time I spent with this piece rewarding. Platinum Doll is a striking and poignant illustration of a remarkable young woman. An irresistible novel that effortlessly evokes the glamour and sophistication of Hollywood during its Golden Age. 

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Harlean wasn’t certain she could be any happier than she was at this moment, doing something she loved, with people she so admired. Life’s road was certainly full of twists and turns but she had really begun to enjoy the ride.
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Audra said...

Oooh, I wanted to read this one but might not -- I'm not quite in a place where I can stand character I'd want to slap!

kim_cree said...

I cannot wait to read this!