"See, I was talking about Madonna and now I'm talking about me. Manny says I obsess on other people because I don't want to focus on myself. But in the end, all my obsessions come back to me. All roads lead to Viva."
Meet Viva Cohen, the wise and sulky teenager from Emma Forrest's debut novel, Namedropper. Her walls are plastered with posters of silver screen legends, and underneath her school uniform she wears vintage thigh-high stockings. She's sixteen and no Lolita, but has a body that stops traffic, "I'm somewhere between Elizabeth Taylor in Butterfield 8 and Drew Barrymore pre-comeback. I have these boobs and this butt that are just separate from me, like they're having a conversation with each other and I'm not allowed to join in." Viva lives in London with her gay Uncle Manny, who has a penchant for working class Spanish boys, and doling out advice regarding the importance of losing ones virginity as a teenager. Her best friends are Treena, a drugged out beauty queen, and Ray, a small time local rock star.
This fiercely intelligent novel takes you on a rowdy journey through the world of London's underground rock scene to Hollywood's MTV elite. As a bitingly funny observer, Viva both embraces and loathes the life she lives and the people around her. She wishes she were the love child of Elizabeth Taylor and Bruce Springsteen. She wishes her best friend's were more like her or at least liked her more. She's insecure and vulnerable but hides it behind an extensive knowledge of pop culture icons and a disdain for anything ordinary. She's even ashamed of liking the song "Boys of Summer" by Don Henley, as if just that small weakness makes her no better than the rest of the easy listening masses.
The part that struck me most about this book was not the story, which is a coming of age tale, but the words. Emma Forrest is a talented and ferociously funny writer. She writes from both a young and ageless point of view at the same time. The fact that Forrest was a pop culture columnist for the London Sunday Times at 16 is not surprising and before writing this book, she worked as a Rock journalist. Kind of reminds me of her plucky heroine, especially since she namedrops a few celebrities of her own in the dedication.
In the book, though, her comments about celebrity are better than anything I've ever read. "I tossed a fat pebble into the slate gray sea, which splished on and on, for no good reason, like a Tom Hanks film." "Dillon kept snorting away at his white powder. I didn't have any. I don't like things that look so pure when they're really so evil. If I wanted that, I'd just go out and snort Mia Farrow." I couldn't help being amazed that I got all of her references to stars, old and new. Maybe that's why I liked the book so much. I'm a namedropper myself, you see. My obsession is Marilyn Monroe, just as Vivas' is Elizabeth Taylor. I make annoying comments to my friends that go something like this:
Me: Did you see the pictures from Brad and Jen's wedding?
This could go on for another few minutes in which I would have highlighted the fact that the entire cast of "Friends" was there, minus Joey. Strangely enough, I cared enough to share that with you.
Anyway, Namedropper is a wonderful, witty book worth reading and Emma
Forrest is a fresh new voice in literature. Viva Cohen could possibly
become the new Holden Caulfield of the Techno-Punk generation. Read it
before everyone else and tell him or her you discovered it. I don't mind.
Everyone wants to be famous for something even if it's for reading a cool
book and telling everyone about. Just pick it up and love it and don't
forget to check out those pictures of Brad and Jen's wedding.
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