Journalist Victor (The Lady, 1998, etc.) has clearly spent years conducting interviews and compiling quotes from secondary sources for her examination into the life of pop-goddess Madonna.
She’s also done her best to tell a story intriguing enough to be a compelling read without resorting to tabloid-style sleaze-mongering. Despite these efforts, Victor doesn’t quite manage more than to circle her subject without ever truly capturing the woman, in the process producing little more than a prolonged Behind the Music script. The author assembles some interesting interview subjects, notably Madonna’s maternal grandmother and several of the star’s jilted lovers. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know which vignettes to condense in her fractured, sometimes repetitive chronology. After spending too much time on Madonna’s childhood, she builds up steam with an in-depth look at the performer’s rise to stardom. But when the narrative gets around to Madonna’s life after achieving celebrity, it becomes increasingly mundane; there’s little here that hasn’t been told before, and tired tales about Sean Penn and Sandra Bernhard can’t be made fresh again simply by adding exclamation marks. To Victor’s credit, she avoids the temptation to sensationalize Madonna’s numerous sexual exploits, exploring the star’s erotic liaisons, lesbian affairs, and abortions in a matter-of-fact way. And in a few instances, the intimate details Victor reveals—about Madonna’s mentor Christopher Flynn, ex-lover Carlos Leon, and current husband Guy Ritchie—show great insight into the singer’s public persona. Yet in all the time Victor spends explaining why Madonna wanted to be a star, and what people helped her become a star, she never adequately explores what Madonna actually became famous for: singing.
Madonna is renowned for reinventing herself, and the author can’t quite keep up. The overdetermined, central motif here—Madonna as Eva Perón—is already outdated.