Arriving in LA too late for the funeral of the mother she never knew, the tough-cookie teenage heroine of this moody, Orange Prize longlisted debut starts her own coming-of-age journey.
Determinedly, self-consciously noirish in tone, British novelist Stothard’s first fiction follows an unnamed, English, 17-year-old girl piecing together the story of Lily, the parent who abandoned her at age 3. Brought up in London by her father, the girl is summoned to the U.S. by a hospital’s phone call, but she only arrives in Venice Beach in time for Lily’s wake, held at the Pink Hotel which she owned. On impulse, the girl helps herself to some of Lily’s belongings, including a suitcase conveniently filled with photos and documents which will aid in the reconstruction of Lily’s life. Danger follows in the form of Lily’s ex, who wants the suitcase back; and romance in the form of David, an alcoholic paparazzo with whom the girl falls in love. Two characters dominate the story—the impenetrable narrator with a taste for pain and a take-no-prisoners attitude, implausibly confident for her years; and Tinseltown, seen in an unglamorous light during a heat-wave summer. Stothard’s focus on these two helps disguise the scantiness of the story.
Ignore the chick-lit-ish title. This story works hard to be worldly-wise and cool, and it sometimes succeeds.