There are only a few novels which have dealt well with our age of celebrity, such as Brett Easton Ellis’s ‘Glamorama’, but there are hundreds of terrible novels written by celebrities, (‘A Mother’s Gift’ by Britney Spears, anyone? Thought not) which is a damning comment on current cultural concerns in itself. Luckily, Jane Alexander’s intriguing novel, ‘The Last Treasure Hunt’ is here to help right that balance. It’s nominally a mystery, which is really a commentary on the modern media and the current obsession with celebrity for celebrity’s sake.
The central character of Campbell Johnstone is beginning his 30s working in a Glasgow pub with no real prospects of anything else happening soon. A cocky youth, as we see in flashbacks, his hopes and dreams are rapidly diminishing at the same time as his friends and sibling’s careers are taking off, so when he gets the chance to piggy-back on an old acquaintance’s fame he grabs it with unbecoming relish, and with no little desperation.
Eve Sadler idolised Campbell when they were children, but now she is the idol, a world-famous film actor who has returned to Scotland to shoot her latest movie with Morgan Freeman (who did visit Glasgow to film 2005’s ‘Danny The Dog’ with Jet Li and the late Bob Hoskins, film fact fans). Campbell stalks Eve on-line using internet celebrity-spotting sites and soon finds out they are shooting ‘Never Setting Sun’ at Pollock Country Park in Glasgow, so he arranges to just happen to be in the area at a suitable time.
What follows is a tragic comedy, with the perfect balance of both. There’s a terrible event, and the fallout from that is a media feeding frenzy with Campbell at the centre of it, and the way he deals with matters is in turn despicable, but all too believable, and you have to ask the question, “What would I do?” in such circumstances. Campbell is pulled in one direction and another as he seeks to make the most of his new found fame, and with only a cursory thought for others. As matters spiral out of his control (although, he never really has any control), his need for self-justification for his actions increases as he alienates those he can trust, and listens to those he really shouldn’t.
Then there is also the mystery of the last treasure hunt itself, which gives structure to the flashback sequences, and they in turn give context to the relationship between Eve and Campbell, which adds a moving yet terrible poignancy. What works so well is that many things are revealed to the reader just as they are realised by Campbell himself, and we see that his lack of understanding and empathy, which stretch from plain selfish to border on the psychopathic, may be something more complex. Someone could write a paper on the fatal flaws of Campbell Johnstone, one of the most memorable characters of recent times.
Before writing a review I often try to sum up a book in a sentence or a phrase to have a clear picture what I’m about to write. The phrase I couldn’t shake after reading ‘The Last Treasure Hunt’ was “Love & Regret”, but not necessarily to be found in the same character. So, that’s the musical interlude this month; it has to be Deacon Blue with ‘Love & Regret’:
I finished reading ‘The Last Treasure Hunt’ just as the promotion for Asif Kapedia’s documentary about the life and death of Amy Winehouse, ‘Amy’, was beginning and there is some correlation between the two in that the media create a caricature and look for a scapegoat in both, while never taking responsibility for their own part in what unfolds. The other text I was reminded of was Ernest Lehman’s 1950 short novel ‘The Sweet Smell Of Success’, which proves that celebrity worship and media manipulation are not modern phenomenon. What Jane Alexander has done is to look at these with a fresh and pleasingly cynical eye. The context may be the modern media, but this is a classic morality tale which, with it themes of betrayal, guilt, unrequited love, and regret, could have been written in any age.
All of these columns can now be found in one place over at Indelible Ink.
Next Month’s Novel: Some of Scotland’s greatest writers are bilingual in English and Gaelic, and one of the best of those is Angus Peter Campbell, so a new novel from him is something to celebrate. ‘The Girl On The Ferryboat’ is certainly that.
Beginning with a quote from David Hume’s ‘An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding’, it is a novel, which looks at fate, luck, love and the passing of time, and as with all Peter Campbell’s writing it is a lyrical delight.