Five Novels about Cinema

To celebrate my first going out of an evening in a long time to the cinema to see Cruella – which I loved (it’s like The Devil Wears Prada with extra real teeth: Emmas Stone and Thompson have a whale of a time! – trailer here), here’s five novels I’ve enjoyed about cinema, involving the process – from idea to screen, rather than the celebrity or Hollywood side.

Diary of a Film by Niven Govinden

My full Shiny review is here. Govinden’s novel from earlier this year, Diary of a Film, follows a few days in the life of an auteur film director who is in Italy with his two lead actors to promote their new movie at a prestigious film festival. But the film festival goings on are in the background of this thoughtful novel. Instead, Govinden takes us into the mind of his maestro to examine the creative process and his stream of consciousness thoughts, written in chapter-long paragraphs. It’s not a difficult book though, I loved it. (10/10)

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John Connolly He

We by John Connolly

Another book I reviewed for Shiny, He is the fictional biography of Stan Laurel, the British half of comedy legends Laurel and Hardy. The very elderly Stan is living out his last days by the sea in Santa Monica with his fourth wife Ida. He never stops thinking about Hardy, whom Stan always called Babe. Using a dual timeline approach, their complicated personal lives are set against the world of the Hollywood studio system, the transition from silent film to the talkies, two-reel shorts to features, the rivalry between studios not forgetting all the rotten contracts. Stylistically, this is a quiet, slow-burn novel, both timelines are written entirely in the present tense, which gives everything a slightly dreamy veneer – if you imagine Laurel’s delivery as Stan, this is the feel I got from the text. If you enjoyed the film Stan and Ollie, you’d probably like this novel too.

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Me Cheeta by James Lever

When first published, this book was credited to Cheeta himself, Tarzan’s chimp sidekick. But by the time it was longlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize the author was outed as James Lever. This novel of monkey business in 1930s Hollywood is an hilarious satire. Telling the story of the chimp kidnapped from Africa and put into the American film system, Cheeta finds the love of his life in Tarzan as personified by Johnny Weissmuller. A unique animal’s-eye-view of the film business, it’s very funny and surprisingly touching too.

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Money by Martin Amis

This is a real marmite book – many will out and out hate it. I did too, but I also loved it! The story of half-Brit, half-Yank John Self, a successful director of raunchy TV commercials is ready to move into the movie business. The novel follows him back and forth across the Atlantic as he tries to raise the money to make his film and get the casting right. He fuels his life with booze, pills, porn and handjobs (he always prefers to get someone to do that for him). He has everything except love. Self is so addicted to his excessive and sordid lifestyle that you read the book waiting for a heart attack to happen, it is subtitled ‘A Suicide Note’ after all. What I didn’t expect was how much I enjoyed this book, which had some dazzling writing in it and the early 1980s were portrayed in all their glorious awfulness. I had been ready to hate it, but ended up feeling sorry for John Self. 

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The Secret Paris Cinema Club by Nicholas Barreau

This is not my usual fare being a commercial romance novel, but when I read this seven years ago I really enjoyed it. It brings my brief survey of books I have read about the film business to a neat end with the screening of a film. Alain Bonnard is an old, but young romantic and owner of a small arthouse cinema in Paris that he inherited from his uncle. Running the Cinéma Paradis is a labour of love, and Alain runs it as a traditional picturehouse showing no Hollywood blockbusters, there is no popcorn either. Every Wednesday evening he shows a classic film about love – Les Amour au Paradis as he calls this slot in the cinema’s programme. Each week a beautiful woman in a red coat comes to watch the romantic movie and always sits in row 17. It has all the feelgood factors and right amount of cheesiness that made it a good summer read.

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I probably have plenty more on my shelves, including Paul Auster’s The Book of Illusions. Cinema and the movies in all their forms are another favourite theme I love to read around. What books can you recommend to me?

10 thoughts on “Five Novels about Cinema

  1. Anokatony says:

    Back in the early days, I followed several blogs, but did not have one of my own. One of the blogs I followed was Asylum, John Self’s blog. Several years ago, I figured out where he got that name from. Now his reviews and articles pop up in the Guardian, the Irish Times, etc.,and I still find them interesting.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      The Govinden will feature in my end of year best of for sure – superb! Me Cheeta was so cleverly done and very funny, but didn’t shy from showing the ageing chimp who wasn’t wanted any more.

  2. Calmgrove says:

    The later (?) edition (editions?) of The Princess Bride are very metafictional, aren’t they, weaving the original story and the frame of telling it to the boy with digressions about making the film (for which he wrote the script) and vignettes about the actors. I must read it again.

  3. Laura says:

    I love books about film/the cinema and Diary of a Film sounds fantastic, even though I didn’t get on with his previous novel This Brutal House. Lissa Evans’s Their Finest Hour and a Half is brilliant on the making of a film in WWII, if you haven’t already read it.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I’ve not read Lissa Evans, but did see the film of Their Finest which I enjoyed – it has Gemma Arterton rather than the ubiquitous Lily James and of course Bill Nighy steals every scene he’s in. I would like to try more Govinden – but maybe not that one?

      • Laura says:

        The film was fun but the book went into lots more detail about the process of making both wartime propaganda and film, which I loved.

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