In brief: Augusta’s a washed-up soap star with more times in rehab than she can remember. After the success of her memoir, she employs Frances to ghost-write the follow-up, culminating in a dramatic trip to America.
The good: Augusta is completely unpredictable, which makes for some hilarious scenes.
The not-so-good: The pace slowed down a little towards the end.
Pages: 310 (ARC)
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Setting: England and America
My rating: 8 out of 10
Who could go past the exceptionally retro cool cover of Based on a True Story? Who could resist a book described as a combination of Absolutely Fabulous and The Devil Wears Prada? Not I, so it was a lovely surprise when I won an advance copy of this story from Allen & Unwin on Goodreads, because it was on my wish list already.
This book definitely has echoes of Eddie and Patsy in the protagonist, Augusta Price, in that she’s never without a bottle or two (sometimes cunningly disguised as contact lens solution) and that she craves the spotlight. However, as Augusta would say, she’s a true individual with an immensely fascinating life that she’s not planning on giving up any time soon. Firmly implanted in middle age, in Augusta’s head she’s still a stunning young vixen trying it on with everyone she meets. Unfortunately, her charm is wearing off after numerous rehab attempts and millions of falsifications and lies. Her son has abandoned her and her ex-lover has fashioned himself as L.A.’s ‘Mr Romance’. Augusta, once the darling of UK soap, now can’t even get a guest role. Stubbornly, she refuses to give up. Her heavily edited (and ghost-written) memoir is the only thing going for her, so she decides to employ newly unemployed journalist Frances to write a sequel. This involves going to a fan conference in America, stalking her ex-lover and getting into incredibly crazy situations.
Augusta was written in such a way that I didn’t feel sorry for her. The scrapes she gets herself into are generally of her own doing and reluctance to accept that she stuffed up. She’s stubborn and childish. Frances is the complete opposite. She’s the voice of too much reason, always cautious and always thinking of the implications of her actions. I was expecting the road trip the pair take to have positive effects on both of them, but I don’t know how much either of them learnt! Ken, Mr Romance, remained a bit of an enigma – is he so much in love with Augusta that he accepts her unconditionally? Or is he too fed up to care? Charles, their son, played a more minor role that what I would have expected. There wasn’t a showdown and it all seemed to disappear off into the mist.
However flawed the characters, Based on a True Story is a page-turner. I just couldn’t stop reading about Augusta’s japes. Each time, she excelled herself in setting a new low. By the end, I was expecting Augusta to finally grow up, but it’s somewhat ambiguous. On reflection, I think this ending really works – you can highlight the positive progress or you can feel smug that Augusta will muck it up soon enough. That way, the ending works whether you liked her character or not. It’s a light read, great for summer – plus the cover is so fashionable it will go with your wardrobe!