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Personality [Hardcover]

Andrew O'Hagan
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 15 2003
Growing up on the Scottish island of Bute, Maria Tambini is a young girl with dreams of escape from her Italian immigrant family. When her amazing voice wins her a talent show at the tender age of thirteen, she is whisked off to London and instant stardom in the entertainment industry.
But even as Maria is celebrating her greatest success, she is waging a hidden battle against her own body, and becoming in the process a living exhibit in the modern drama of celebrity. Can she be saved by love? Or will she be consumed by an obsessive celebrity culture, family lies, and by her number-one fan?
Based closely on the life story of a famous singer, this stunning novel is at once a rich portrait of an immigrant community and a tragic tale of the hidden costs of celebrity.

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From Amazon

Andrew O'Hagan's Personality opens on Scotland's Isle of Bute with three generations of the Tambini family struggling for success in their adopted home. The blanket of charm that envelops the Tambini's gradually discloses many secrets: forgotten children, torrid affairs, closeted homosexuality, and suppressed ethnic tension. Thirteen-year-old singer Maria Tambini seems to be everybody's antidote to past failures. After she leaves Bute for and audition with the television show Opportunity Knocks in London, she rapidly achieves both fame and fortune buoyed by a voice "like Barbara Streisand['s]" and charisma beyond her years. Friends and family mourn her loss to stardom while taking solace that someone has escaped Bute and achieved success as they imagine it must be on television.

But Maria's abrupt transformation into a personality leads to obsession with body image, clothes, hairstyles, and make-up; she sees herself as only an object for other people's entertainment: "Her body was apart from her. The person with thoughts was different from the person with arms and legs, a stomach and a face." For Maria, a life of surfaces, a life of pleasing, means self-annihilation. As her self fades into the image that others project on her, her body literally withers away.

O'Hagan experiments with virtually every narrative form in Personality (even including an epistolary chapter). Not all of these attempts work, and the story--driven by its strong characters and not plot--occasionally bogs down in details unnecessary to the development of either. But even in these rare lapses O'Hagan, whose previous work has been short-listed for the Booker Prize, carries his reader through his finesse with Scottish dialect and the wit of his rich supporting characters. --Patrick O'Kelley

From Publishers Weekly

O'Hagan chronicles the rise and fall of a troubled pop singer in his poignant second novel "inspired to some extent by the lives of several dead performers." Young Maria Tambini has a powerful set of pipes: on Scotland's Isle of Bute, where her grandparents immigrated to escape Mussolini, the shy, winsome girl wows residents and wins numerous local talent contests. At 13, she triumphs on TV and moves to London. But as her career hits the fast track, Tambini begins to lose touch with her family and control of her life. Successful albums and appearances with the likes of Dean Martin, Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett abound ("You are such a talented little person I want to kill you," Cavett says), but Tambini develops a laxative habit and begins both starving herself and vomiting. Soon, hospital visits become a regular part of her routine. O'Hagan introduces a romantic subplot when Maria meets a kind former classmate, Michael, who helps nurse her through her struggles, and the climax features a well-crafted confrontation with a deranged fan who continues to stalk Maria even after her career has peaked. Many of the rags-to-riches music scenes are familiar, but O'Hagan portrays Maria's food problems with grace and compassion (diet soda feels "like a passing shower of rain inside, and harmless, under control, the taste of zero"). The additional story line about the struggles of Maria's mother, Rosa, is more hit-or-miss. This novel is a solid addition to O'Hagan's body of work, but the absence of a truly compelling plot makes it a bit of a disappointment after the critical acclaim for Our Fathers, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars scottish history May 18 2004
Format:Hardcover
the story of maria tambini, the teenage pop star who rises to fame and then nearly dies of anorexia nervosa, is the main plot device, yet it is not the high point. the strength of the book is the depiction of maria's family, italian immigrants in scotland whose lives were traumatized by world war II, when italians in scotland were attacked for their link to the nazis. the family's fish and chip shop is trashed and maria's grandmother, lucia, is taken to a refugee camp. she is reunited with her daughter, sofia, and tries to escape on a ship, but the ship is bombed and she loses her daughter. the loss cripples her for the rest of her life and o'hagan makes the point in a fascinating way, through a suitcase with items from sofia's life that is returned to lucia 30 years later. o'hagan actually lists the items at the end of the chapter on the saga, which is a beautifully sad moment, one of a few in this fantastic book that doesn't let the main story steal the show. it's amazing how all the reviews you read focus only on maria's saga. how can they have missed the best parts of the book?
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By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
There's a lot to admire in this beguiling and heartfelt story. O'Hagan deftly whisks us away to the picturesque island of Bute and the beautiful sounding town of Rothesay. Growing up in Australia, and being familiar with British television or "telly" as the British like to call it, there was much in this novel that was familiar to me and so much of it bought back memories: the Basil Brush Show, sausage rolls, LWT, and Opportunity Knocks etc. O'Hagan really brings back to life the 70's TV variety shows and the people who starred on them. And there's no doubt that his research of the period is absolutely meticulous.
Personality is so much more than an account of one young girl's rise to fame and fortune as a "Cilla Black" style variety singer. The Italian immigrant experience - which I must confess I knew nothing about - the terrible disease of bulimia and anorexia nervosa, the meaning of family ties, and the culture of celebrity in Britain are all issues that O'Hagan tackles in this work with differing success. The many multiple story lines and secondary character confessions do, at times, clutter and stifle the central chronicle of Maria's rise to stardom and her battle with eating disorders. However, the secondary characters are still beautifully developed: Rosa, Maria's mother, spends her days running the family "fish and chip" ship in Rothesay, supportive of her daughter, but also regretful of what "might have been"; Lucia, the Italian immigrant grandmother who holds terrible family secrets from World War 2; Mrs. Gaskell the work obsessed entertainment agent who drives Maria to the brink of no return, and Michael, Maria's childhood friend who falls in love with Maria and comes to her rescue later in the novel. There are also many other characters equally rich in detail.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Stunning Aug. 14 2003
Format:Hardcover
In a run-down resort town on a Scottish island, a family pins its hopes on the youngest daughter, Maria, who is working on her singing and her looks. As an early teen, she is whisked off to London, where she wins a televised talent contest. Three years later, she is a famous pop singer. By twenty, she is anorexic, looney, and is being stalked.
The characters in Personality are astonishingly complex & well described, the plot is not particularly compelling. Still a fine effort by Mr. O'Hagan, and well recommended!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Multi-faceted exploration of celebrity and its perils May 20 2005
By F. J. Harvey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
There is a "note to the reader" prefacing this book which proclaims it it not based on any one person ,a disclaimer that will ring hollow in the ears of British readers above a certain age who will clearly see the similarities between its main protagonist Maria Tambini ,and the late Lena Zavaroni ,whose tragic career so closely prefigures that of Maria -a child star who died of anorexia nervoso at a tragically early age .

It opens in the Jubilee year of 1977 on the Isle of Bute in Scotland .Maria ,a small child of 13 possesses a powerful singing voice ,and she is discovered by a scout for the TV programme Opportunity Knocks (an actual show ,presented by Hughie Green ,who also appears in the novel ,under his own name ).She is taken to London ,taken on by am ambitious agent ,Marion ,and swiftly enrolled at the prestigious Italia Conti stage school(also a real institution ).She wins Opporunity Knocks numerous times and is eventually retired from the show on the ground she is unbeatable .A hit single follows ,along with a round of TV appearances and sea side variety shows ,as well as sell out shows at the London Palladium ,trips to Vegas and a White House performance .Sadly also featuring are bouts os self starvation ,a heavy lazative ingestion and prolonged bouts of hospitalization .

This is pure Zavaroni -even the interview featured in the book ,whwre she appeared on the Wogan chat show is lifted almost verbatim from the actual programme .It is impossible at least for British readers to escape the " roman a clef "elements of the novel .This is not to downplay its merits as imaginative fiction -merely to point out its reliance on actual people .There are plenty of real people namechecked in the book ,from the unctuous Hughie Green whose oleaginous personality is captured faithfully ,to doyens of British comedy such as Les Dawson .Diana ,Princess of Wales -herself a victim of eating disorders -appears as does Nancy Reagan ,saying it is impossible to be too thin .

Aside from the passages devoted to Maria's career the emotional epicentre of the book lies back on Bute with the family from whom Maria sprang and the milieu of the island and the Italian community in particular is evocatively captured .

The narrative proceeds through a variety of voices particularly various family members ,interviews and letters from Maria's childhood friend Kalpana and her stalker Kevin .Especially vivid are the voices of her neurotic mother ,Rosa ,and her uncle Alfredo ,a womanising barber ,not to mention her grandmother Lucia ,although the cumulative impact of so many narrative voices is a detriment and even confusing at times .

The book works as an account of one person's rise to fame and the world in which it takes place ,a world which is changing and becoming more ruthless. If the narrative now and again bogs down -which it does -there are ample compensations namely in the strongly drawn characters like the Italian clan and Maria's protector ,Michael ,and the pathetic celebrity stalker Kevin .

Its a rich and rewarding book full of incidental detail and some fine minor figures ,like Kalpanna's father ,Dr Jaggadanam .

Enjoy it for its insight into the corrosive impact of too early fame and as a study in deracination -the plight of the person who takes flight from a small place to a larger stage only to discover they are at home in neither one .

The ending is upbeat and cautiously optimistic -would that its inspiration were around to read it .
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stunning Aug. 14 2003
By Bill Thomson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In a run-down resort town on a Scottish island, a family pins its hopes on the youngest daughter, Maria, who is working on her singing and her looks. As an early teen, she is whisked off to London, where she wins a televised talent contest. Three years later, she is a famous pop singer. By twenty, she is anorexic, looney, and is being stalked.
The characters in Personality are astonishingly complex & well described, the plot is not particularly compelling. Still a fine effort by Mr. O'Hagan, and well recommended!
5.0 out of 5 stars a haunting book from life in Scotland last century,especially for me growing up there at that time Sept. 28 2013
By James - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Besides originally coming from near Bute, a fascinating script and memories of the language used, His prose is so enjoyable
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars scottish history May 18 2004
By ken liebeskind - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
the story of maria tambini, the teenage pop star who rises to fame and then nearly dies of anorexia nervosa, is the main plot device, yet it is not the high point. the strength of the book is the depiction of maria's family, italian immigrants in scotland whose lives were traumatized by world war II, when italians in scotland were attacked for their link to the nazis. the family's fish and chip shop is trashed and maria's grandmother, lucia, is taken to a refugee camp. she is reunited with her daughter, sofia, and tries to escape on a ship, but the ship is bombed and she loses her daughter. the loss cripples her for the rest of her life and o'hagan makes the point in a fascinating way, through a suitcase with items from sofia's life that is returned to lucia 30 years later. o'hagan actually lists the items at the end of the chapter on the saga, which is a beautifully sad moment, one of a few in this fantastic book that doesn't let the main story steal the show. it's amazing how all the reviews you read focus only on maria's saga. how can they have missed the best parts of the book?
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A beguiling and ambitious work on the culture of celebrity. Sept. 22 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
There's a lot to admire in this beguiling and heartfelt story. O'Hagan deftly whisks us away to the picturesque island of Bute and the beautiful sounding town of Rothesay. Growing up in Australia, and being familiar with British television or "telly" as the British like to call it, there was much in this novel that was familiar to me and so much of it bought back memories: the Basil Brush Show, sausage rolls, LWT, and Opportunity Knocks etc. O'Hagan really brings back to life the 70's TV variety shows and the people who starred on them. And there's no doubt that his research of the period is absolutely meticulous.
Personality is so much more than an account of one young girl's rise to fame and fortune as a "Cilla Black" style variety singer. The Italian immigrant experience - which I must confess I knew nothing about - the terrible disease of bulimia and anorexia nervosa, the meaning of family ties, and the culture of celebrity in Britain are all issues that O'Hagan tackles in this work with differing success. The many multiple story lines and secondary character confessions do, at times, clutter and stifle the central chronicle of Maria's rise to stardom and her battle with eating disorders. However, the secondary characters are still beautifully developed: Rosa, Maria's mother, spends her days running the family "fish and chip" ship in Rothesay, supportive of her daughter, but also regretful of what "might have been"; Lucia, the Italian immigrant grandmother who holds terrible family secrets from World War 2; Mrs. Gaskell the work obsessed entertainment agent who drives Maria to the brink of no return, and Michael, Maria's childhood friend who falls in love with Maria and comes to her rescue later in the novel. There are also many other characters equally rich in detail.
O'Hagan is also a wonderfully descriptive writer and he experiments with different styles throughout the novel - he uses newspaper reports, the epistolary form, and various chapter-like monologues to reflect the characters' inner-most thoughts, and to help tell us the story of Maria, her struggles, and her journey to stardom. This works well in some sections and not in others, and sometimes the novel becomes cluttered with too many subplots. There's also a rather unnecessary twist involving a stalker in part three, which seems hurried and tacked on, and at times, particularly in part three, the story meanders too far from the central plot. But this novel is still worth reading and the fact that the author can authentically transport you to Great Britain in the 1970's and present an era in such vivid detail shows tremendous talent and literary creativity. Anyone who grew up watching 70's British variety shows and has an appreciation for them will just love this book!
Michael.
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