Written by John Connolly

Review written by John Parker

John Parker is a Graduate-qualified English/Spanish Teacher, owner and director of CHAT ENGLISH, an English Language Centre in Avilés on the north coast of Spain . A voracious reader, he has particularly loved horror fiction for many years.

Hodder and Stoughton
RRP: £16.99
Released: Aug 24 2017

John Connolly’s new book is a fascinating look at the Golden Age of Hollywood through the eyes of one of the finest comedians ever to grace the silver screen.

This work entitledhe’ is a fictional account of the life of Arthur Stanley Jefferson or, as we all know him, Stan Laurel. From his beginnings at Pickard’s Museum, the Panopticon in Glasgow to his last days in Santa Monica, California, Connolly re-imagines Laurel’s life and his relationship with his many wives, his friends, his family, his film career and, most especially the special bond he had with Oliver Hardy, affectionately known as Babe. The only constant in his life is this man who he met in 1921 while filming The Lucky Dog. What was “just another job” for the two of them eventually leads to the formation of, arguably, the greatest comedy duo in the world, Laurel and Hardy.

When Connolly writes about Laurel’s professional life, we learn about a man in control of his craft, a consummate professional. His personal life is another story completely. One might think that the story of his various relationships with women is pure invention but it is not so. Laurel is, undoubtedly, a womaniser. He is also a man with many insecurities. He never knows what he wants and consequently he loves and is loved, betrays and is betrayed, leaving behind him a trail of affairs and broken marriages. He is a great comedian, yet he often thinks, almost obsesses, about Charlie Chaplin and how he could be his equal or even better. This is the kind of stuff that can lead to depression. Fortunately for Laurel, Babe is his rock and their relationship is one of complete trust and respect. His presence is the most important thing in Laurel’s life, although there are others that play significant roles like Ben Shipman, his lawyer and his last wife, Ida. Babe is, in some ways, more likable than Laurel. Although he too has his marital problems, he is far more faithful and caring in his relationships than the more selfish Laurel appears to be.

For me, this book is a resounding success. Connolly writes throughout in the present tense, which is a device which can sometimes be a little distracting but not in this novel where it functions perfectly. It is almost as if we are reliving various moments in the mind of Stan Laurel as he reminisces about the old days. The chapters recounting the life and career of Stan are short and to the point, sometimes funny, often tragic, and always entertaining.  The book is stylistically wonderful. The use of repetition is a device that gives the prose a lyrical feel, a sense of poetry. The novel flows effortlessly and carries the reader along with it. Stan Laurel is always just he, while the rest of the cast are consistently referred to by name and/or surname.

This is a book full of history, full of sadness and joy, replete with fascinating characters. Connolly’s greatest achievement here is that he makes you forget that this is fiction,  that this comes from his imagination. Connolly makes you believe that this is what Stan Laurel must have been like because it is a book that speaks true. I applaud him for that. Read it now.  

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