The Truth About Lisa Jewell by Will Brooker

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The Truth About Lisa Jewell by Will Brooker

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Category: Biography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Lisa Jewell's many, many fans will surely delight in this extended examination of her works and her life. Even newcomers to her oeuvre will see wonderful detail in these pages about how popular fiction is sometimes produced.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: June 2022
Publisher: Century
ISBN: 9781529136029

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Meet Lisa Jewell, one of the most successful British authors I've never knowingly read. Now meet Will Brooker, one of the thousands of less successful authors I quite confidently never have read. This book starts with the two meeting each other, as well, and shows how 2021 drew the two closer and closer together. The meeting was some unspecified combination, it seems, of her anecdote about cup cakes, the words of her latest book she was reciting, and her being in a black lace mini-dress with gold brocade (certainly a get-up never commonly worn at the author events I get to attend), but pulled Brooker, a professor of cultural studies who has swallowed Roland Barthes, down the rabbit-hole that is Jewell's diverse output. Brooker decides he'd like nothing more than to follow her through a year in the published author's life, working to make a success of the latest title, and struggling with the next in line. Jewell, due diligence appropriately done, agrees. And this is the result.

This has a lot to handle, from the twenty books and three very distinct genres Jewell has written in before, to all the ins and outs of her coping with the demands on her next thriller. I can't say Brooker makes her the most appealing author, however well-admired she must be, and clearly how rarefied she must be to deserve this volume in hand. Suffice to say I am glad he liked picking through her descriptions of women's clothing, decor as character and so on (one bloke defined apparently because he shops with two in-house M&S labels?!) – I doubt I would ever be so forgiving about such minutiae. If I had read her from the start I don't know if I'd have loved her career progression, or if I'd feel her large jumps in genre output kind of belittled what she'd enjoyed success with before.

This then is a cultural study about Jewell, comparing her with Joyce, McEwan, Martin Amis (an author she might have written something akin to, if chance had played its hand at the right time), as well as a look at a hit author at work. And that's from quite a unique stance, too – it's not well, first she wrote this and then she wrote that and then came this book, although there is a bit of that as Brooker initially wheels through the back catalogue. Neither is it from the close-up point of view of a spouse or lover – these are no John Bayley and Iris Murdoch, or Nigel Kneale and Judith Kerr. They do not share offices, or landings, or postcodes even. Instead it's an occasional Zoom, an email that follows on and clarifies or closes a conversation, a forwarding of a few first draft words.

And it's that that I sought to find here, and that I was most happy to receive. Whatever your taste in fiction, there can be no end of intrigue at how the industry works these days. The previous book is still being tweaked, as a late booster chair to some small aspect of the plot shows a character off as more important than a fortnight ago, but the copy-editor needs to have her hands upon it within days. When it is out it will put a demand on Jewell's time as regards publicity. Meanwhile a certain large online retailer is posting a prelim cover of the next one, the one we're watching germinate. It's scheduled for summer 2022. And Lisa has just deleted her second chapter.

What's more, there are different things to consider, courtesy of The Truth About.... Our author is seeing the work in progress, Jewell's chapter by chapter, week by week. As close to the mother lode as you'd like to be, is this the best way to absorb a new novel? And how might his presence and feedback and questions to her have any effect on the end piece – or, as at times, seems – delay?

All the while Jewell has no pretentions about nursing a wonder, an outrageous success. Her working ethic demands instead that nothing gets dropped, not her family's bank balance or her publisher's bottom line or her contract with the reader to provide words that really prove worth our time. Brooker dismisses her wish for steady success, seeing male authors as never settling for less than an implausible hope for hit after hit, climb after climb. But through this, where she juggles everything into creating a riveting read upon first, unplanned draft, and still has to cope with her daughter half-inching things from Primark, we certainly do get to meet her as I invited you to, and certainly get the feeling that being her fan might be no bad thing at all.

Brooker, too, of course, in managing to reign in the university course language of Barthes and other critics, succeeds in being a great guide to the year's progression. So good is this partnership that, while its existence might lead you to expect further such collaborations, its quality does the opposite and will put off any thought of matching this with a different subject.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

The most recent Jewell thriller we've enjoyed here has been Invisible Girl. And we'd nod you in the direction of The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley – one of the justifications Jewell had for undergoing this project was that she'd want to read it if about Ms Foley.

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