Thursday, 23 August 2012

Hollywood Cemetery by Liam O'Flaherty

Liam O’Flaherty abandons his usual stark tone and dark storylines for slapstick comedy in this hard-to-find 1934 novel.
The main character Brian Carey is a recognisable O'Flaherty creation - a sullen, arrogant, hard-drinking writer whose belief in his own genius makes him contemptuous of many of those whom he meets.
The rights for one of his books has been purchased by Hollywood media mogul Jack Mortimer who wants to turn it into a movie.
The novel opens in Ireland where Mortimer, reluctantly accompanied by Carey, is searching for a female lead.
The wild, promiscuous girl he choses is reinvented as Angela Devlin who is brought by Mortimer back to Hollywood but no-one is allowed to see her face as the mogul manufactures a media frenzy about his mysterious new starlet.
Carey, who despite initial hostility towards her has fallen in love with Angela, is bribed, blackmailed and eventually threatened with assassination to play along with the scheme.
O'Flaherty's portrayal of Hollywood is cartoonish - everyone is on the make, no-one, apart from Carey, has any real talent. Mortimer doesn't want to shoot the movie in Ireland because he reckons he can create a more authentic version of Ireland in his Hollywood studio.
The story becomes more convoluted to the point of absurdity as the novel progresses, any semblance of plot disintegrating in the process.
The brashness and falsity of Hollywood and the prostitution of talent for the sake of a quick buck is old hat these days, but that this novel was published nearly 80 years ago.
O'Flaherty was a native Irish speaker, born on the Aran Islands, who fought for the British army in the First World War, tried to lead a communist uprising in Dublin during the Civil War and became a prolific short story writer and novelist. He had direct experience of the movie industry. His novel The Informer was made into a film by his cousin John Ford.
He also worked in Hollywood during the 1930s, trying to make a living as a screenwriter, and so it can be presumed that this ultimately unsuccessful novel, is based on at least some personal experience.
As in interesting foot note, a quick web search on Hollywood Cemetery brought up this little nugget:
MAD HATTER'S VILLAGE
Sometimes an author arrives unheralded on the literary scene, publishes one book, then disappears without a trace. That seems to be the case with Mary Cavendish Gore, who appears to have produced one novel and nothing else. (The only Google hit shows that she renewed the copyright in 1961.) Or could the author, whose voice is masculine, be using a pseudonym? Could the author, in fact, be Liam O’Flaherty (best known for The Informer), whose life roughly parallels that of the protagonist? I admit that's not likely, but it would be fun, if true.
Mad Hatter’s Village by Mary Cavendish Gore. Alfred H. King (1934), 306 pp.
A pedantic writer hopes that his latest novel will bring him fame and fortune. In the meantime he lives in a shack on a beach near Los Angeles and ekes out a living on his pension check from the British army. Several of his friends are similarly strapped for cash. He is pursued by a nearly divorced woman with two children. Although he finds her unattractive, uncouth, and unresponsive, they start an affair. He can’t open up to her but can’t break it off the relationship either.
Despite its satirical edge, in the last analysis this is a plaintive story of a decent if talentless fellow who must cope with painful memories, unrealistic aspirations, and dire poverty. He tries to solve his problems by walling himself off emotionally, a strategy that fails in the novel’s surprise (and inadequately foreshadowed) ending. The protagonist, if not exactly likable, is credible and skillfully drawn. The same may be said for the girlfriend and the minor characters. In a just world this thoughtful and well written book would takes its place with other struggling-writer novels, such as Martin Eden and Ask the Dust. As it is, potential readers will be lucky to find a copy.

2 comments:

Sandy Shaw said...

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Unknown said...

Thanks for reprinting my review of Mad Hatter's Village. Maybe it will spur someone to rummage through O'Flaherty's papers to see if there's a mention of the book.