Pan, £5.99, ISBN 0-330-48794-9
Contemporary Fiction, 2001
Wow! is probably a thinly-veiled only half-fictitious account of the author’s life as a senior writer in Britain’s bestselling celebrity magazine OK!. The heroine here is Ruby Lake, senior writer for Wow!, Britain’s bestselling – you guess it, celebrity magazine.
Like OK!, Wow! is a magazine that writes only happy, lovey-dovey stories about celebrities. Meaning, it mainly covers weddings and homes of celebrities, all in gushing tones that Ruby Lake is becoming increasingly sick of writing. She can barely conceal her boredom in the start of the story, when she is doing a home-and-impending-nuptials coverage of Arsenal footballer (soccer player to Americans) Lee Jackson and his supermodel girlfriend CoCo Fernandez.
Wow! then follows Ruby’s adventures as she performs her assignments, her writing more often than not a far cry from the celebrity shenanigans she witnesses – overhearing a gameshow host shagging his newborn’s nanny over the baby monitor device (wifey is sulking for the photoshoot downstairs), taking revenge on an R&B diva (based on Mariah Carey?) using the diva’s dog’s poo, trying to figure out the reason of a soap star’s breakup with her famous boyfriend, and trying her best to stay sane in a hushed-hushed, ultra-beefed-up security coverage of the wedding of a movie star and a supermodel young enough to be his daughter (this is just my opinion, but Joe Lucas and Niamh Connolly are so Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones).
Ruby also finds love with a hunky gardener after false starts with a philandering photographer and a stalker.
Wow! is an entertaining read mainly because of the interesting behind-the-scenes machinations of a tabloid, which might as well be warfare where rival tabloids, always out for a scoop, are concerned. Back stabbings, the over-the-top methods a reporter has to use to keep her scoop hers and hers only, and their love-hate relationships with celebrities are all here for one to gawk at. Even more interesting is the way tabloid players have rankings for celebrities, these rankings accompanied by space allocation, price tags, and all.
Oh, and I must warn one unfamiliar with British pop culture that the author uses a lot of contemporary tabloid references that may lose the novice completely. Pop quiz: who are “David and Victoria” and “Robbie” to you? If you can’t tell under five seconds, you may soon be lost.
It’s fun and the author’s style is always engaging. Ruby is an intelligent heroine who, unlike some more neurotic Brit chick lit heroines, while she may want a man, she doesn’t work herself into a dignity-free cling-to-his-ankles-and-screech-for-a-pity-shag hysteria. The stalker subplot provides some moments of dark comedy, while Ruby’s relationship with Sam, in a novel that tends to put the cap on being cynical, is surprisingly idealistic, saccharine, and boringly perfect. Sam is not a character more so than an extension of Ruby’s search for the perfect man. And what’s with all this soulmate, my perfect understanding half nonsense in a novel trying to be all cynical and chic about love?
At the same time, the humor is too restrained and low-key even for me, who normally abhors over-the-top slapstick. Many potentially humorous subplots, including the stalker, just flounder halfway before petering out into a half-baked conclusion. It is as if the author is afraid of retribution from her peers if she reveals something really fun and scandalous about the tabloid business. Ultimately, Wow! has this guarded feel to it, maybe like a stand-up comedian’s first time on stage.
Still, it’s fun enough for some light, fizzy shampoo-and-beach read. In fact, it’s perfect for a beach read, entertaining and yet light and insubstantial enough to be pitched aside when some hunky beach dude invites me to CPR him.