‘Valentino’ loses its way

2011-04-06 00:00

RUDOLPH Valentino was Tinseltown’s first celeb megastar, and his death in 1926 saw fans wailing in the streets, some apparently even committing suicide. Rumours of poison did the rounds and poor old Rudy was said to have died with the name “Jenny­” on his lips. And for years, on the anniversary of his death, a veiled mystery woman laid flowers on his grave.

With the current passion for blending fact and fiction, it is only surprising that someone didn’t beat Daisy Waugh to the draw in creating a novel of the life, loves and death of Valentino. Her Jenny is Jennifer Doyle, a penniless­ immigrant who wants to become a scriptwriter in the burgeoning movie industry. She meets Rudy when he is a gigolo, hired to dance with her unpleasant employer, and, of course they fall in love. The employer is Blanca­ de Saulles, a real character, who goes on to shoot her husband and thus does both Rudy and Jenny out of a job. Swearing undying love, they go their separate ways, determined to stay in touch.

That proves very difficult, and this is one of the book’s most implausible implausibilities. Both, after various hiccups, separately head for Hollywood and Jenny changes her name to Lola Nightingale and dyes her hair, but still … Anyway, suffice it to say that for 10 years they are apart, only to meet again, amid metaphorically sobbing violins, just before his death.

The real problem here is that, after what is a promising start, the novel loses its way. Too much extraneous matter is chucked in and neither main character is believable — in fact Jenny­-Lola is like two very different people, depending on whether we are seeing her 1916 or 1926 persona. It might just do as a beach read, but not for me, I’m afraid.

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