Competition published on August 4, 2017.
An extraordinary reimagining of the life of one of the greatest screen comedians the world has ever known: a man who knew both adoration and humiliation; who loved, and was loved in turn; who betrayed, and was betrayed; who never sought to cause pain to others, yet left a trail of affairs and broken marriages in his wake . . .
And whose life was ultimately defined by one relationship of such tenderness and devotion that only death could sever it: his partnership with the man he knew as Babe.
he is Stan Laurel.
But he did not really exist. Stan Laurel was a fiction.
With he, John Connolly recreates the golden age of Hollywood for an intensely compassionate study of the tension between commercial demands and artistic integrity, the human frailties behind even the greatest of artists, and one of the most enduring and beloved partnerships in cinema history: Laurel & Hardy.
“We have a copy of he: A Novel by John Connolly to give away – scroll down for your chance to win”
“I am of a generation that grew up with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy as part of their lives, as fixtures on morning television and images on the walls of bedrooms and college dormitories. Because of the roles they played, I think there is a tendency to sentimentalize them, and confuse the artistry with the reality. But they both led complicated, adult existences with their share of trauma and tragedy. What sustained them, I think, was their loyalty to each other, which grew deeper as the years passed, particularly for Stan Laurel, who perhaps took his partner for granted at the start, but was ultimately lost without him.
But the strange thing, of course, is that Stan Laurel didn’t really exist. The name was a fiction, just like the image on the screen. Somewhere between Arthur Jefferson, his birth name, and Stan Laurel, his screen name, lay the truth of him, which is why he is never named in the book: why he is he, if you like.
A lot has been written about both men – and Stan Laurel was both a prodigious correspondent and a willing interviewee – but he was a product of Victorian times, and so kept his feelings largely hidden: about the women in his life, about the losses he suffered, about Chaplin, with whom he had a very complex, conflicted relationship, certainly more than Stan was ever willing to admit. For someone who composed so many letters, he actually revealed very little of himself, and I felt this left an emotional space that could best be explored, not through biography, but through fiction.
I’ve spent years working on this book – researching it, planning it, and, finally, writing it – so I’ve lived with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy for a very long time. With he completed at last, all I can say is that I now love them more than I ever did, with all their flaws, in all their glorious humanity. Ben Shipman, their lawyer, himself a hugely important character in he, and who was as devoted to them as they were to each other, called it right: they were beautiful men.”
Featured on nudge and in the latest issue of NB magazine, our reviewer Paul Burke had this to say:
He is an imagining of the life of Stan Laurel, of Laurel and Hardy fame, the greatest comedy duo of the silver screen – an influence on everyone that followed. This is a novel about identity – the man not the myth. A genuinely shocking portrait; unsentimental, hard, even tragic. The dark tone is a surprise but it is a triumph of the book that Laurel’s character rings true, other characters are equally well drawn. Connolly lifts the facade of stage and film persona to reveal the heart and soul of the man, deftly written with compassion and empathy. He is well researched but also infused with the writer’s sense of the real person; Laurel’s feelings and inner thoughts. Laurel’s tribulations and regrets are explored in an engaging and intelligent novel that speaks to a crucial human issue – loss.
In staccato chapters, almost cinematic in presentation, Laurel’s life unfolds. Approaching death, he conjures up the past; his marriages, his children, Hollywood, the years in the shadows, fame, decline, ill health and the enduring partnership with ‘Babe’, Oliver Hardy. These vignettes advance the story until a credible whole is revealed. Through memories a portrait emerges of a complex man who lived a hard life involving tragedy and deep regret.
The storytelling is clever and vividly realised; a mix of memory, third person accounts and reportage (after Dos Passos – USA). He is not for everyone but those looking for an intense meditation on life and loss will find it rewarding and ultimately uplifting. Connolly has stepped outside the crime genre to publish a literary novel of real merit and it is all the more impressive for being about a familiar person, flipping perceptions, but being believable. Connolly effectively distinguishes the public persona from the man – the dark and moody ambience is reflective of the narrator, Stan Laurel, as he examines the life lived.
Despite puncturing the cosy bubble of childhood memory (Laurel and Hardy were still lovable TV stars in the 70s/80s), this novel doesn’t diminish their art and creates a raw and honest portrait of a man to be admired for his resilience. Rarely will genuine memoir be so candid but we would understand writers better if they were. I loved this book and thoroughly recommend it.
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About the author
John Connolly lives in Dublin and went to Trinity to study English. This is his first literary novel, although his considerable breadth of writing covers much ground with previous books – from the remarkable The Book of Lost Things, through the number one bestselling Charlie Parker mystery thriller series, the YA science fiction trilogy and the gloriously funny Samuel Johnson children’s books to the non-fiction volume, Books to Die For. He travels much, has a home in Maine and is passionate about the early years of Hollywood. Along the way he has picked up a great many awards for his work.
he: A Novel by John Connolly, published on 24 August, 2017 by Hodder & Stoughton, in hardback
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