Friday, 16 April 2004

Len Deighton: Close-Up (1972)

Edition: Pan, 1974
Review number: 1230

This is the last of Deighton's experiments outside the spy genre for a long time, and it is the only one of his novels which cannot be described as a thriller of one sort or another. Close-Up is a satirical portrait of the Hollywood film industry, based presumably on stories heard or impressions gained during the filming of many of Deighton's novels during the sixties. (I would hesitate to say, particularly given the clear disclaimer at the start of the novel, that the characters are based on any real individuals.)

Close-Up is the story of superstar Marshall Stone who, in the early seventies after twenty years a star is frightened - that his career is coming to an end, of the young up-and-coming actors who might take the roles he regards as his own. Then there is what the press think is a romance with young model turned actress Suzy Delft, though in a twist typical of the novel, she is in fact his daughter from an affair hushed up by the studios at the beginning of his career. The whole novel is about how different the reality of the film business is from the image fed to (and eagerly lapped up by) the media. Stone, for example, may be charming, but he is also an utterly self centred hypochondriac. His real name, Eddie Brummage, points to the difference between appearance and reality - "brummagem" was slang for shoddy mass produced goods.

The subtle aspect of the novel is the way in which the reader is given insights into why Stone is the way he is - how his insecurities made him a great screen actor, and how his success in turn feeds his psychological problems. This blunts the edge of the satire - the film The Player, for example, is much more vicious - but makes Close-Up more effective as a piece of fiction about characters who seem real.

Close-Up may not be the most immediately appealing Len Deighton novel, because it is so different from anything else he wrote. It is in this way similar to John le Carré's The Naive and Sentimental Lover, but is less ambitious and, partly as a result, much more successful. This is one of Deighton's best novels - it is just not a thriller.

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