Personality by Andrew O'Hagan - Book Review



Personality by Andrew O'Hagan  - Book Review


 If you live in Britain you will probably recognise the young lady in this book. A young woman in the nineteen-seventies who swept to fame via Hughie Green's Opportunity Knocks, the Pop Idol talent show programme of its day. A Scottish lassie with an Italian name and Italian background, a slight young woman with a big big voice. You'd know who that was, wouldn't you?

And you'd be so wrong too, because we are talking about Maria Tambini here, from Rothesay on the island of Bute. So fiction can be stranger than fact, or is this book that peculiar and somewhat trendy hybrid, faction?

Either way, along with the Tambini's and their friends, we also meet other characters you will be familiar with, such as Les Dawson, Dean Martin, Princess Diana, and even President Reagan himself and the lovely Nancy. "A girl can never be too slim", whispers Nancy in Maria's ear at a White House dinner. Oh yeah? I think you may have got that one wrong.

It is quite impossible to read this book and not think of the tragic life of Lena Zavaroni who died at such an early age at just 35. Lena remains the youngest person ever to have an album in the UK pop charts and she came from, wait for it, Rothesay on the Island of Bute.

I am really not sure about the merits of writing a novel that borrows so much information from real life. The edges become blurred and you begin to wonder what is true and what is flowing from the creative brain of Mister Andrew O'Hagan. What I do know is that Andrew has written a compelling book here and I could not set it down from beginning to end.

His ear for the Scottish accent and dialect is superb. I found myself repeating many a phrase out loud, some of which seem to have bounced straight out of Doctor Finlay's Casebook.

The Italian men are all philanderers, no surprise there then, and there is, perhaps surprisingly, quite an Italian community on Bute, making and selling their unmatched ice creams to the tourists, while one of the guys walked all the way from Tuscany to Scotland on the vague promise of a job. That sounds so absolutely ridiculous, it is probably true.

The women all seem to suffer from mental problems, perhaps that is understandable as well with all they had to put up with, their Scottish shops being looted and burned for example, when Mussolini dragged Italy into World War II. After that, the Italian immigrants were promptly invited into holding camps, an invitation they could not refuse.

There is a lot going on here which all adds to the depth of the book, but always, and inevitably, it returns to the girl with the incredible voice, the girl with mental problems all of her own, the incredible Maria Tambini, with Lena Zavaroni always perched firmly on her shoulders.

Personality is a cracking book. Evocative of the seventies and eighties, yes it is, but it is much more than that. It brings the searchlight back on to a very real problem, one that sadly still holds a firm place in the modern world. Read the book if you get the chance. It can be bought on many internet book sales sites for small change or even less, and that is just crazy.

And at least Personality has a happy ending, or does it? I'm not so sure. Read it and find out for yourself. You won't regret it. It's a fab book. 

And now it's time for some video. Here's the writer himself talking about Scottish independence and the referendum, the vote to stay in or quit the EU, and of course lots of chat about literature and his books. The man is always worth watching whether you agree with his views or not. Here's the video. 



You can read another review on Andrew's books and see more video of the man here. You can read more general book reviews here, and you can return to the home page here