Glitter Baby is a reissue of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ first novel, originally published in 1987, and is set in the 1950s, ’70s and ’80s. I think as a hangover from the 1970s bodice-rippers, romantic fiction from the 80s (the little I’ve read of it anyway) seems to require hard-edged and even harder-won sophistication and a loss of innocence, which can make the book quite heavy, especially for someone who discovered romance in the late 90s.
I can understand why this book has been out of print for so long: it’s a time capsule from decades past and is likely to sell again today primarily because of Phillips’ name on the cover. Or at least that’s why I bought it. But even the publishers seem confused as to how to market it for today’s readers. The front cover and spine describe the book as “fiction” or “women’s fiction”, but the quote on the back calls the book a “sweeping romance”.
It definitely doesn’t fit today’s typical structure for a romance novel. The first chapter shows Glitter Baby Fleur Savagar’s tentatively successful attempt to return to the spotlight after a mysterious fall from grace, and the rest of the book is divided informally into parts, starting from before Fleur’s birth, going through her life up to the opening scene (which is now richer for knowing how she got there and how much more is at stake than what we saw the first time around) and beyond to the conclusion. I found that to be a really interesting approach because the opening already tells the reader that Fleur was a huge sensation before something went spectacularly wrong, and that stayed in the back of my mind while I read about Fleur’s rise to fame. This was a really good place in the story to start the book because it immediately raises so many questions to draw the reader in, first and foremost, “What went wrong?”
The first part sets up the events surrounding Fleur’s birth and explains why her mother is such a flawed individual who doesn’t have a full grasp on reality and believes that celebrities are just better than normal people. For a while I almost forgot that it wasn’t Belinda’s book, but including this part in Fleur’s book reminded me that we aren’t born into a vacuum. Our parents had hopes and dreams and a complex relationship and the impact all this has on them often influences who we will be. Given Belinda’s broken dreams and infatuation with fame, it was natural that she would become a pushy showbiz mother and Fleur would be forced into the limelight, where she meets the hero, Jake Koranda.
Jake is a Hollywood action star trying to make it as a screenwriter, and he and Fleur both share a life of secrets and barriers against everyone around them. He seems to be around 10 years older than she is and sees her as a kid, while she fights her crush on him. I really enjoyed their chemistry together when he teases and challenges her to bring her out of her shell and find her inner actress, not to mention the sweet innocence of first love.
Poncy English pheasant hunting pointers, male fantasy pin-ups and fulfilling the potential of Babies
If this was a full-on romance, I’d complain that we don’t get to see enough of Jake. After things go badly for them, they lose contact for several years, during which time Jake got only a few mentions when Fleur thought of him. For someone who plays such a crucial role in the story, he didn’t get anywhere near as much page space I would have liked. But then I am a romance reader.
The book is written in the third person, but as the title suggests, it’s Fleur’s story and other characters are introduced and get scenes only as they affect Fleur. The parts all have “Baby” in the title, except for the last part, which is simply called “Fleur” and shows her fulfilling her potential and becoming self-actualised. Finding out who you really are and then finding the way to live as the person you were meant to be is the main theme of the book for all of the main characters.
Now for the nitpicky, anal bit: the names. I know that Jake Koranda’s action hero is a fictional character from a story within a story, but despite having action heroes like Rocky Balboa, John Rambo and Indiana Jones on hand at the time of writing (and household names when she revised the book for reissue), Phillips chose to call Jake’s character Bird Dog Caliber. Bird Dog just doesn’t make sense to me unless you’re talking about those pointers that poncy Englishmen take pheasant hunting with them, and if that’s the case, it takes more than the surname Caliber to make it sound tough. I’m just saying.
And Kissy. If the name conjures up an image of a male fantasy pin-up with an IQ smaller than her bra size, then you’re almost there. That’s who she projects to everyone and that’s how she unhappily gets typecast, even though she’s actually quite intelligent and talented. But Kissy doesn’t seem to be short for anything, even in a formal introduction where her full name, Kissy Sue Christie, is hauled out and dusted off. Why saddle even a secondary character with a name like that, and why would someone who’s trying to be taken seriously keep using that name?
Yay or Nay?
Glitter Baby is well written, but it’s not always an easy read. Even in what should be idyllic situations, surrounded by opulence and glory, there’s a sense of unease throughout most of the story, which makes Fleur and Jake’s scenes together shine like gold (and made me want more). But like Phillips’ other books, even though the main characters travel a rocky road, it all comes together happily at the end and that makes the journey worthwhile for me.
Where you can buy this book
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