Saturday, June 13, 2009

Susie Boyt's "My Judy Garland Life"

Susie Boyt's novels include The Normal Man, The Characters of Love, The Last Hope of Girls, and Only Human.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to My Judy Garland Life, her first work of non-fiction, and reported the following:
Page 99 of My Judy Garland Life - A Memoir might not, at first, seem representative of the book at all. Page 99 has nothing to do with Judy Garland and is not even written by me. It is, in fact, a letter my mother sent to me just before I sat my final exams at Oxford, when I was 23 and bereaved and grieving. It occurs in a short section of the book entitled Things That Have Consoled Me Greatly at Low Moments in a chapter called ‘The Rescuers’.

Yet the letter’s themes of courage, hope, cheer and its excruciating opposite, are all utterly central to my book. My Judy Garland Life is really an extended meditation on love, fame, rescue, grief and consolation, disguised as a book about hero-worship. In examining key episodes from my life and key episodes from Judy Garland’s life the book takes a long, clear look at the many faces of loss and the many faces of love. It is, I hope, a dark book with high spirits about the way we all live.

1. A letter from my mother while I was at university and very, very sad.

Darling Suse,

I hope so much that you are feeing better. I think you are being very brave about everything. All this immense golden sunshine seems very extraordinary– when I went to the market early it was cold, even wearing a coat. One old lady fly-pitching on the pavement: ‘Yesterday the Caribbean, today Siberia!’ and she was repeating it to every passer by, accompanied by lots of laughter. The tree outside looks like a firework display of golden shooting stars aimed at my window and the air is rotten with the smell of lawn mower, except for our front garden where some roses are out. They are called PEACE; I might put some little labels like the sign TAKE COURAGE at Finsbury Park.

I’m going to see Enid tomorrow. Last week I stayed there till midnight, we were recounting the days of our youth, I could remember a lot of things about her that she had forgotten. I must see if she can do the same for me. Tomorrow there is a circus in Highury Fields, no animals but lots of funny acts. I’m hoping to take Frances* after school. I should think it would be very exciting for us both, though not so exciting without the smells of lions and elephants.

Some time in the summer after your exams, perhaps we could go on a little holiday together, for one or two days, stay at a posh hotel in Brighton for the night or something. Wouldn’t it be lovely, we could go to the Variety Theatre in the evening and stroll along the pier. And take photographs. What do you think?

I hope and pray you feel better, I have a strong feeling that everything is going to go really well, and you will be really pleased with all your hard work and exams. I hope you like the little enclosure [a rose key ring]

All the love in the world. Mum.
Read an excerpt from My Judy Garland Life, and learn more about the book and author at Susie Boyt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue