David Sexton

Not a Book but a Commodity

Rock Star

By

William Heinemann 458pp £10.95 order from our bookshop

This is a book so much not there that, like the dog that didn’t bark in the night, it’s remarkable. It is hard to imagine how human hand could have produced it.

I have always believed, as a reviewer, that absolutely every book must hold some sort of interest for the truly attentive reader. After all, books are by people, every human soul is unique, and however awful or slight the work, it must have something of its author breathed into it. Psychiatrists read character from ramblings about Rorschach blots, don’t they, and even a Frederic Raphael story might reward the sufficiently skilled and patient investigator.

That creed is about as close to Christian charity as I have got. After a short career of accepting commissions to review first novels by women, by Irishmen, and by people who had been to Cambridge, I decided to honour it in the breach rather than the observance. But I did not discard it as a theory. So I had failed as the Mother Teresa of the book pages? Others might do better.

Jackie Collins has made me think again. Rock Star gives the lie direct to the delusion that there must be something in everything. Clearly there is not.

Where did I go wrong? How did a book like this come to be? It is tempting to argue that, as the picture on the cover suggests, the theory holds and Jackie Collins is not a real person. She may be a droid, a biddable replicant concocted in Silicon Valley. In that case the absence of life and soul in her writing would be positively reassuring. But this is merely to pass the buck. What of her operators? Have they no feeling either?

It won’t do. Jackie Collins, woman or gadget, must have composed this text herself; common though it is for the publishers of bestsellers to lend them a hand or two as required, it simply can’t have happened this time. Had it, the book would willy-nilly have been less inert. Rock Star is unquestionably the product of an unaided celebrity.

So we can’t, as we would like, exclude Collins from humanity. Unless someone finds her instruction booklet, we must rather enlarge our conception of the species to include her. A new vocabulary will be needed.

Without it, to describe the incidents and characters of Rock Star is to confer on them more reality than they possess. Never mind. Kris Phoenix is a gigantic male rock star, of proletarian British upbringing. Rafaella is a gigantic female rock star, of wealthy international upbringing. Bobby Mondella is a gigantic blind black rock star, of poor American upbringing. All three are obligated to gigantic record business billionnaire, Marcus Citroen. All three are about to play for him and his wife Nova Citroen, formerly a gigantic German whore, at a political fundraiser in their gigantic mansion Novaroen, near Malibu. But then, at what I would say is the climax, the gigantic fundraiser is disrupted by an attempted huge armed robbery by Maxwell Sicily, the wayward medium-sized son of a gigantic Mafia boss Carmine Sicily.

As you see, Collins, aware that her people are perfunctory and formulaic, without what my aunt used to call ‘felt life’, has craftily equipped them with names so grotesque that you may nonetheless be able to remember which one is which.

Likewise, she has met the difficulty caused by her incomprehension of sex by the simple device of dealing with portion size alone. ‘Vicki Foxe had arrived in Hollywood at sixteen, a runaway from Chicago, with sixty bucks in her pocket and two great assets – her incredibly large breasts.’ The sentence makes one wonder where she put them. Perhaps the point is that they were themselves storage – what Collins later calls ‘tits you could balance a mug of beer on’?

Collins is a close student of comparative anatomy. ‘Inga’s huge knockers made an interesting contrast with Flower’s small buds.’ Buds are useful mainly for contrast, one understands. Fruition is the aim: ‘She had the biggest nipples he’d ever seen atop her magnificent bosom. Large, ripe, peaked cherries.’ Glacé, do you think? Perhaps. Jackie Collins, like her sister, is, I believe, a senior citizen, and does talk rather a lot about what it is to be well preserved. According to her making love to an older woman is ‘a bit like pigging out on a lusciously rich ice cream sundae. You wouldn’t want to do it all the time, but oh boy, was it good while it lasted!’ Providing that is, one has a sweet tooth: ‘“Wanna suck on the candy, big man?” she tempted him, giving him no choice as she thrust an upstanding nipple into his mouth.’

Where was the rest of her, one wonders idly? Not necessarily attached, for Collins does tend to take what some wise man called an atomised view of the matter, discussing a body as merely accessory to its owner, rather against the drift of Western thought on the matter: ‘Cybil slept on, her nineteen-year-old body smooth and naked.’ ‘Astrid was nine years older than Cybil, but he had the requisite long blonde hair and knock-out body, plus she was Danish.’ The one that sizzles in the pan?

‘Requisite’ owns up to a certain weariness – a weariness soon evoked in the reader too. Particularly gruelling is Collins’ resolution never simply to say ‘he said’, but always to qualify it with an adverb, or to substitute gasped, sneered, blurted, stormed, announced, whispered, agreed, laughed, replied, muttered, joked, demanded or hissed. It is the marriage of such vestigial abilities with absolute tirelessness that is so daunting. Nothing lightens the load. Sexual consumerism and base motives are attributed to all characters at the beginning; no story interest survives that. Probably it is not supposed to. This is not a book but a commodity: merely an intermediary stage between Jackie Collins’ agent and a TV mini-series.

She cannot be seeking to entertain. What her Robocop approach to composition commands is first respect and then fear. She has rather an admiring passage about Nova Citroen: ‘Everyone loathed Nova Citroen. The Iron Cunt was her nickname. “She makes Imelda Marcos look like a pussy,” was the general opinion of her staff.’ It is a sentiment to which all the bosoms, big balloons or little buds, of Miss Collins’ readers will return an echo.

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