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Personality by Andrew O'Hagan
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Personality

by Andrew O'Hagan

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Personality is a fast read, perhaps because readers are so familiar with this type of story: the career development of young pop stars. Each generation has its own, and in each generation, some of these youthful celebreties derail, under the pressure of a sky-rocketing career to stardom.

In Andrew O'Hagan's novel Personality, the prodigy is called Maria. After winning a talent show on television, she is propelled onto the stage and the novel describes her incredible career till the pinnacle of success and the vertigo that she experiences with such fast ascension. However, the novel is not much about Maria. Although she is the main protagonist, the novel does not focus on her, but rather describes the people around her. This indirect approach creates estrangement in the reader, and the course of the story is not always clear. Although the story is told in chronological order, there seem to be gaps.

While Personality is a story of success, the story is depersonalized, to focus more on the phenomenon, and less on the individual performer. As is the lives of other pop stars, Maria encounters some typical developments at pitfalls of that type of career, such as an episode in which she is plagued by anorexia nervosa and the danger of obsessive fans.

However, although Maria is somewhat on the background, the novel does seek to establish common ground in terms of the type of personality that is needed to be successful, to succeed and to withstand the pressure and danger. In the case of Maria, it seems that her stamina and resilience are as much a feature of her individual personality, as well as a trait in her family background, coming from a struggling Italian immigrant family. Both her talent and to sing and her talent to survive run in the family.

Andrew O'Hagan based Personality on a real story, but this is not apparent to readers of the novel, and neither relevant. Parts of the novel were less interesting, and the story seems to be a bit long and drawn out. However, other parts are described vividly, leaving a strong impression, particularly the enrapturing climax. ( )
1 vote edwinbcn | Oct 18, 2014 |
What to make of book whose protagonist isn’t the most interesting character? That’s the situation in Andrew O’Hagan’s Personality. The novel is primarily about the stress of fame on Maria, a child singer, as she grows out of a quiet childhood on a small island in Scotland to a demanding adulthood in London.

From the first chapter, which documents a body washing up on a beach during WWII, you know that the book is going to be about more than just Maria. It delves into the history of Scotland and the treatment of its Italian immigrants during the war (they were assumed to be Nazi sympathizers), the loss of a child, distrust, hidden family secrets and a whole bunch of other stuff before it even gets to Maria’s story.

At times during the early chapters, there is a “get to the story” feeling, but once the story comes it ends up being one of the less interesting of the book. Maria’s story of going from one show to another, dropping her family from her life, and struggling with anorexia and depression never changes. It simply serves as a weak backbone for stronger secondary stories.

What saves the book, and makes it one of the better novels I’ve read this year, is O’Hagan’s writing. His write with detail without getting bogged down. He accomplishes this by changing perspective and style. Everyone seems to have a say in their own short chapter or two. Styles include traditional narrative, newspaper clippings, TV interviews, and letters. The result is a very enjoyable book about not so enjoyable subjects. ( )
  mhgatti | Aug 8, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0571217753, Paperback)

Andrew O'Hagan's Personality opens on Scotland's Isle of Bute with three generations of the Tambini family struggling for success in their adopted home. The blanket of charm that envelops the Tambini's gradually discloses many secrets: forgotten children, torrid affairs, closeted homosexuality, and suppressed ethnic tension. Thirteen-year-old singer Maria Tambini seems to be everybody's antidote to past failures. After she leaves Bute for and audition with the television show Opportunity Knocks in London, she rapidly achieves both fame and fortune buoyed by a voice "like Barbara Streisand['s]" and charisma beyond her years. Friends and family mourn her loss to stardom while taking solace that someone has escaped Bute and achieved success as they imagine it must be on television.

But Maria's abrupt transformation into a personality leads to obsession with body image, clothes, hairstyles, and make-up; she sees herself as only an object for other people's entertainment: "Her body was apart from her. The person with thoughts was different from the person with arms and legs, a stomach and a face." For Maria, a life of surfaces, a life of pleasing, means self-annihilation. As her self fades into the image that others project on her, her body literally withers away.

O'Hagan experiments with virtually every narrative form in Personality (even including an epistolary chapter). Not all of these attempts work, and the story--driven by its strong characters and not plot--occasionally bogs down in details unnecessary to the development of either. But even in these rare lapses O'Hagan, whose previous work has been short-listed for the Booker Prize, carries his reader through his finesse with Scottish dialect and the wit of his rich supporting characters. --Patrick O'Kelley

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:53 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

"Maria Tambini is a thirteen-year-old girl with an amazing singing voice. Growing up above her mother's shop on the Scottish island of Bute, living at the centre of her family's dream of fame, Maria is an extraordinary girl making ready to escape the ordinary life." "We first meet her amidst the faded grandeur of the seaside resort of Rothesay, with the Argyll hills and the Eighties in front of her, and behind her a long shadow: the secret story of her Italian-immigrant family. When Maria wins a national TV talent show she is taken to London and becomes an instant star of what used to be called light entertainment; she sings with Dean Martin and tours America, can fill the London Palladium, yet all the while 'the girl with the giant voice' is losing herself in fame and waging a private war against her own body. Maria becomes a living exhibit in the modern drama of celebrity: is it possible that she can be saved by love? Or is she to be consumed by an obsessive culture, by family lies and her number-one fan?" "Personality includes a cast of characters so vivid and complex that they seem to encompass within their enthralling stories a portrait of a whole society, its history and its spirit."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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