The Memory of All That

In a long and busy life, Bryan Forbes (1926 – 2013) wrote novels and films, acted in television and films, directed films and, for a time, ran the film production unit at EMI. It’s safe bet to say he knew his subject.

So it’s a little sad to say that this story of a struggling screenwriter in 1950s Hollywood is pretty predictable. He writes an unsuccessful novel, which takes him to Hollywood, where he falls in with an assortment of self-centered, fast-talking and generally unreliable types. He finds a little work and makes some money before putting his name on a script bequeathed him by an alcoholic – and much better – writer. Success follows. He marries an actress whose star is in the ascendance…

All of this rings convincingly – and depressingly – true. And the story just belts along; it’s very easy to read. But if you’ve read Budd Schulberg’s What Makes Sammy Run?, Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust, or even James Hadley Chase’s pulp thriller Eve, you won’t really be surprised by anything that happens.

Until the coda, set in the 1980s, when our narrator wraps up the fate of several other characters and reveals that his life turned out – No, I’m not going to say. Even though I chanced upon this book in a second-hand shop and the chances of anyone else finding it are slim, I won’t spoil the ending. Except to say that it delivers a totally unexpected, and grimly satisfying, sting. One I’m still thinking about several days after finishing it.

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