Thursday, 20 April 2017

Book of 1977: The Fan by Bob Randall

 
published 1977




 
The Fan
 
 
The Fan 2
 

commentary: This is my 1977 book for Rich Westwood’s Crime of the Century meme at Past Offences.

John over at Pretty Sinister Books reminded me about this one, saying:
I read it when it first came out when I was a teenager. I thought it was great. I may see it in another light now that forty years have passed. THE FAN is rather unusual for a 1970s book as it’s entirely composed of letters, memos, and notes and was cleverly designed using different letterheads and typefaces for each letter. All before the age of personal computers and digital publishing, of course. So I think that made it rather expensive and time consuming to layout and print. It was turned into a movie (a quasi-musical, no less) starring Lauren Bacall and James Garner.
Although there are large areas where our tastes do not overlap at all, every so often there is a book that only John and I seem to have read – and this may be one of them. I too loved this book as a young person, I thought it was very clever, very funny, and rather devastating.

And it stood up well on another reading. It’s the story of Sally Ross, a movie star who is about to do a stage-show on Broadway. She has an ex-husband, (Jake), a terrific assistant, (Belle), good friends, and neighbours who think she’s too noisy. And she has a fan: her biggest fan, an obsessive young man who is about to go over the edge.

The book is very cleverly told through letters – and as John says, it is laid out really well, which is why I have copied the page above rather than typing it out.

The Fan, Douglas, writes to Sally: letters which start out simply being quite keen, and then get more and more deranged. For the first half of the book Sally is unaware, and the reader follows her life as she rehearses, meets a new man, and continues her delightful relationship with her ex-husband, as above. Eventually she realizes something is badly wrong, and that Douglas is threatening her, but by this time it is hard to track him down, and the tension rises: the reader knows far more about Douglas than either Sally or the police. The final pages are terrifying.

The film was not a success, and Lauren Bacall apparently said it was far too gruesome and violent: she wanted it to be a film about an older woman’s life and choices. Bacall was (it becomes ever more apparent) a complete diva, often totally unreasonable, but she may have a point here, though I haven’t seen the film so can’t be too judgemental. The character development via the letters is superbly done – Randall was an excellent writer. He obviously intended there to be a huge and growing contrast between the sunny tone of Sally’s exchanges with her friends, and the sad downward spiral of Douglas’s life. But there were times when you’d just want to ditch the madness plot and hear more about Sally.

As a book of 1977 – it’s very much a time of A Chorus Line and Cabaret on Broadway, of Bob Fosse and Michael Bennett. New York is on its way to being down and out, dirty and dangerous and glamorous, not yet polished up. And the world of musicals and showbiz is going to be hit by AIDS in a few years time, but doesn’t know it yet.

I very much hope John will read this book too, look forward to hearing his views.

There is very little in the way of clothes description in the book, so I found this perfume advert from a 1977 fashion magazine – I feel it gives an idea of Sally’s mystery and charm.
















13 comments:

  1. Oh, this sounds fascinating, Moira. And what an interesting way to tell a story, too - through letters and so on. I can already get a sense of what this woman is like, just from the example you've shared, and the writing looks crisp and with a hint of wit. I like that. Glad you enjoyed this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Margot- it really was a compelling read, as well as being good fun, and having a real flavour of 1977.

      Delete
  2. The movie came out only a few months after the murder of John Lennon, so it had a sort of ghastly timeliness. Even so, it was something of a commercial bomb, probably because not only Bacall but also the people behind the movie, didn't want to make a thriller. At the time it seemed as though all concerned really would have liked to make a comedy/drama/musical, but at the time the slasher movie (HALLOWEEN/FRIDAY THE 13TH)was very much in the ascendant, and my memory is that the studio very much pushed it as a high-class horror movie, ensuring that the horror movie crowd were disappointed and those who would have liked the Broadway atmosphere stayed away.

    The book worked in an almost M R James sort of way, with the amusing showbiz antics slowly being infected with the terrifying madness of the stalker. The movie version of Peter Benchley's JAWS worked because the producers and director decided from the outset that they were going to fillet the book and take the 'Man v Monster' story and get rid of all the other stuff. THE FAN either needed to be a thriller or a behind the scenes type movie. They tried to do both and it couldn't possibly work.

    ggary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for (as ever) fascinating analysis, and that all makes perfect sense. I am still wondering if I should try to watch this movie...
      I wonder if anyone will ever be tempted to try to work it a different way as a film - I'm sure it COULD work (as you say, choosing a genre carefully) and what fantastic roles for some lucky actors.

      Delete
  3. This sounds so familiar, I would almost say I read it, but books from that long ago elude me so who knows. I did know of the Bacall movie although I don't think I saw it. However, if I run across it I will give it a try, a book of letters, memos, and etc would definitely appeal. and I will tell Glen that ggary compared it to M. R. James, as he is a fan of that author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I always find books of letters or diaries an easy read, and this one slid down a treat. I am a big fan of MR JAmes myself, and though this is a completely different type of story, I can see what ggary means about structure.

      Delete
  4. I love this extract. It sounds fascinating. It must have been written around the same time as John Fowles's The Collector, also featuring a deranged and obsessive young man, and also a disturbing read..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yes, The Collector, what a scary book and film that was. The concept is always terrifying isn't it, and as you say disturbing.

      Delete
  5. Never mind the fan. I want that hat.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, me too, and I want to cultivate an air of mystery and sophistication. Sadly, I have a long way to go, but I could start with that hat...

      Delete
  6. The one that has interested me the most in the past few weeks, but I doubt I'll read it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm guessing it's exactly the kind of book that might turn up in the tubs, but if it isn't there I can see you probably won't bother.

      Delete
    2. For some reason Irving Wallace's The Fan Club springs to mind - probably more the similarity in titles than the plots.

      Delete