Postcards from the Edge

Posted: January 1, 2018 in Book reviews
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postcards-from-the-edge-9781439194003_hrBy Carrie Fisher

Movie actress Suzanne Vale is trying to put her life back together after a drug overdose, but this proves harder than she thinks, a stint in rehab helps, but the vacuous nature of Hollywood and her romantic and career interactions keep her off kilter enough to ever wonder if she can be happy again.

There’s something very poignant about reading this book a year after Carrie’s untimely death, though not an autobiography this novel is clearly autobiographical, with Suzanne Vale, with her drug problems and famous mother, a fictionalised stand-in for Carrie herself.

The first thing to note is that this is nothing like the film. I haven’t seen it, but I know that at its core is the relationship between Suzanne and her mother and so it took me by surprise to realise that Suzanne’s mother barely appears in the book—seems there were a lot of changes when Hollywood decided to film it (though Carrie also wrote the screenplay).

The structure of the novel took a little getting used to as well. Split into five sections (plus prologue and epilogue) the book shifts between first person and third person narrative and even the point of view changes. After the prologue, which is in the epistolary style in the form of postcards, the first section is told first person, and from the perspectives of Suzanne and Alex, a screenwriter with a major drug problem. In this section Suzanne is in rehab where, after a major bender that almost costs him his life, Alex joins her. In many ways I think this was my favourite section of the book, if only because it’s the rawest. By the time we enter Suzanne’s life she is off drugs, and so Carrie uses the character of Alex to give a glimpse at how Suzanne likely ended up in rehab.

The Suzanne sections are humorous and hopeful, but interchanged with these the Alex sections are incredibly, almost frighteningly manic (and given the nature of Carrie’s diagnosis with bipolar disorder one can’t help but see the parallels between the calm Suzanne and the manic Alex).

Alex’s descent towards overdosing is terrifying, as is his refusal, initially at least, to accept he has a problem, and even after he does he sees rehab as research, grist for his writing mill. Not for the first time you get the feeling that in this book life imitates art which in turn imitates life, and so on. As a window into Carrie’s mind I think this book is a doozy.

The next section is told in alternating monologues between Suzanne and Jack, a film producer with whom she’s having a relationship. Suzanne is talking to her therapist, Jack his lawyer, and though their relationship is consensual it’s easy to see a low-level Weinstein like vibe in Jack’s attitude toward women.

The book shifts into third person for the rest of its sections (bar the epilogue). The first section deals with Suzanne’s first post rehab job on a B-movie, this section is quite amusing but also depressing, and again the position of women in Hollywood is at the forefront.

The final two sections detail Suzanne’s day to day life, her relationship with her friend Lucy, and an incredibly shallow Hollywood party. I found these parts my least favourite to read, although Carrie does a good job of showing how shallow most of the people in Hollywood are, she almost does too good a job. Plus, without a clear idea of who characters might really be representing none of them come alive enough for this satire to work to the fullest.

The epilogue at least is a neat and amusing return to the start of the book.

I can’t say for sure that I enjoyed the book, and if I did this enjoyment waned somewhat towards the end. It’s perhaps at it’s most engaging while Suzanne is struggling, and limps a little towards the end. What is clear is that Carrie was a talented writer, in particular the scenes of Alex’s drug fuelled bender are incredibly harrowing, and this certainly hasn’t put me off reading some of her other books.

As a thinly veiled description of a specific time in Carrie Fisher’s life, and a snapshot of Hollywood, this is incredibly insightful, and as an example of her literary skill it’s enlightening, but as a narrative it all ends up feeling a little hollow and unfinished, but then that’s probably the point, because it’s clear in so many ways that Carrie was probably a little too switched on for Tinsel Town, a place that doesn’t always value introspection and prefers the shallow, something she so clearly wasn’t.

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