An interesting, engaging look at the psychological impacts of living your life in the public eye
Faking a love story is a whole lot easier than being in love…
The world can see that international A-list actress Whitman (“Win”) Tagore and jet-setting playboy Leo Milanowski are made for each other. Their kisses start Twitter trends and their fights break the internet. From red carpet appearances to Met Gala mishaps, their on-again, off-again romance has titillated the public and the press for almost a decade. But it’s all a lie.
As a woman of color, Win knows the Hollywood deck is stacked against her, so she’s perfected the art of controlling her public persona. Whenever she nears scandal, she calls in Leo, with his endearingly reckless attitude, for a staged date. Each public display of affection shifts the headlines back in Win’s favor, and Leo uses the good press to draw attention away from his dysfunctional family.
Pretending to be in a passionate romance is one thing, but Win knows that a real relationship would lead to nothing but trouble. So instead they settle for friendship, with a side of sky-rocketing chemistry. Except this time, on the French Riviera, something is off. A shocking secret in Leo’s past sets Win’s personal and professional lives on a catastrophic collision course. Behind the scenes of their yacht-trips and PDA, the world’s favorite couple is at each other’s throats. Now they must finally confront the many truths and lies of their relationship, and Win is forced to consider what is more important: a rising career, or a risky shot at real love?
An interesting behind-the-curtain look at “crisis” management, the industry and lifestyle of Hollywood, and the ways in which is alters its inhabitants’ perceptions of reality, love, and life. Populated by interesting and varied characters, it’s a well-constructed, slightly predictable, but enjoyable read.
Because I don’t want to spoil the story, I’m not going to spend much time on the plot. The novel is about the off-screen moments of celebrity life — that is, it’s not about the movies that Win stars in. Rather, it’s about the work that happens between projects — because that is, ultimately, what Win’s life has become: work. Win and her team have attempted to take full control of the narrative of her life. Everything is strategized and planned. Nothing is left to chance, and when “accidents” happen, everyone leaps into action to spin events in Win’s favour. This has been going on for years, and it’s very quickly apparent the ways in which is has twisted Win’s perception of what is “real life”. She has allowed her professional life to consume everything else. Early on, we learn of the arrangement she has with wealthy playboy Leo, and the faux-relationship they trot out whenever Win’s life needs a bit of a publicity boost. However, neither Win nor Leo can deny that they actually have real feelings for each other. However, the overwhelming demands of celebrity life have convinced Win that she needs to tamp those down at all costs, in order to protect her work.
Following alongside Win and Leo as they navigate this strange, not-particularly-attractive way of life (I’m sure all the money is nice, but damn), the authors do a very good job of showing the extra demands and expectations on Win, as an actress of colour. Strangely, though, her belief that nobody else gets it isn’t true: Leo spends a lot of time examining Win’s life, his place in it, and how different it is for her compared to not only himself (white, male, very rich) but also other white (and sometimes male) stars. Despite it being a “Hollywood” novel, the main paparazzi culture featured seems to be British and European — the former is turbo-charged to an extent that is gross and frankly demented.
As the story progresses, we realize that pretty much everyone else around Win does, in fact, understand, but Win’s perceptions have become so twisted and all-consuming, that everyone else’s needs fade away into the background. Every decision has become a calculated move. The final quarter of the novel lays bare how selfish she has become and, strangely, the portrait of an embattled character falls apart a little bit. Readers’ sympathies might fall a little more with those around her, rather than with Win (my favourite character is Win’s mother). Not sure if this shift in sympathies was intentional, but it isn’t fixed by having everyone else fall over themselves to reassure Win and profess their continued love for her — that ended up feeling a bit forced. A minor niggle, though, in an otherwise well-written and constructed novel.
The View Was Exhausting is an interesting novel, with a lot to offer, and plenty of interesting and engaging scenes, chapters, and ideas. It has plenty of sharp observations about the difficulties faced by women of colour in a world very much dominated by and run by men. While there were times when Win’s decisions and treatment of others was jarring (especially towards the end), the authors have nevertheless painted an engaging portrait of someone who has been so twisted up inside by the perceived and actual expectations heaped upon them by the entertainment media and industry.
Mikaella Clements and Onjuli Datta’s The View Was Exhausting is due to be published by Grand Central Publishing in North America and in Headline Review in the UK, on July 6th, 2021.
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Review copy received via NetGalley