Christopher Bray

Hollywood Inside Out

West of Eden: An American Place

By

Jonathan Cape 334pp £20 order from our bookshop

Anyone who’s ever read a Raymond Chandler or Ross Macdonald novel will already have worked out that California is basically a padded cell with sunlight. Here to prove that those works of fiction are based on fact is Jean Stein’s West of Eden, an oral history of life at the top in 20th-century Los Angeles. On the dust jacket is one of Ed Ruscha’s paintings of the HOLLYWOOD sign atop Mount Lee. In this one we see it from behind, the letters silhouetted against a sunrise that looks less like the promise of a new day than a premonition of nuclear dusk. The people Stein and her interviewees discuss in the book turn out to have lived lives no less inverted and often more infernal.

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