Friday, 17 December 2010

Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

It's been a couple of weeks since I posted as I've been busy tackling this book, traffic and work.

“There came Death hurtling along the Boulevard in waning sepia light.
There came Death flying as in a children’s cartoon on a heavy unadorned messenger’s bicycle.
There came Death unerring. Death not to be dissuaded. Death-in-a-hurry. Death furiously peddling. Death carrying a package marked *Special Delivery Handle with Care* in a sturdy wire basket behind his seat.
There came Death expertly threading his graceless bicycle through traffic at the intersection of Wiltshire and La Brea where, because of street repair, two westbound Wiltshire lanes were funnelled into one.
Death so swift!

How can you resist a book with a start like this? Blonde is the fictionalised story of Marilyn Monroe's life, from birth to death. Oates stipulates very clearly at the beginning of the book that several areas haven't been written about whilst others have been moulded to fit her version of events, but its certainly left me wanting to read a biography of the star now.
As a child Marilyn is abandoned by her busy mother and left to be cared for by older relatives, it soon becomes clear that the mother's behaviour shows signs of mental instability. Soon Norma Jeane (her real name) is left to live with her mother in a small apartment. She has to deal with her mothers drinking which several times nearly led to the bed they shared being burnt down. Alongside many other issues, such as men, obsessions, neglect etc until her mother finally tries to burn her in a scolding bath. Her mother is sent to a hospital whilst Norma Jeane enters an orphanage.
We then watch Norma Jeane pass through school, foster parents, an early marriage, modelling, divorce and finally becoming Marilyn. And so continues with the rest of her life, the high profile marriages and relationships, the battle with drugs, stage fright and the need to be loved.
The varied narrative styles all form to create the picture of Marilyn as a lost soul, a shy child desperate to be loved who relies heavily on her body in an attempt to gain the love and affection she so desperately wants. Oates weaves a fantastic but dense tale, never creating a Marilyn who is easy to pigeon hole, feel sorry for or love. Her version is a woman that doesn't know herself, so we are left with the numerous versions that she plays out.

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