BOOK REVIEW / In the private jet with Angel lust: Sabine Durrant on the alcohol-drenched new novel by Jackie Collins, which goes straight for the jugular: American Star - Jackie Collins: Heinemann pounds 14.99

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The Independent Culture
CLAWS, ladies, claws. In the American edition of You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, Julia Phillips' gory dissection of the film industry, the producer with the poisonous pen points out 'the alcohol-drenched ankles' of Jackie Collins. 'Probably,' she adds, 'carrying the weight of all that make-up.'

The swipe has been excised from the British edition of the book (Heinemann, the publisher, just happens to deal with the alcohol- drenched novelist too), but Collins still wants blood. In American Star, her latest blockbuster, there's a cameo role for 'an anorexic woman producer with cropped hair and a bad-tempered attitude. Julia something or other'.

Julia Somethingorother only hangs around for a couple of paragraphs; long enough, though, to scream, swear, snort coke, exude sexual desperation and exhale bad breath. It's a cruel passage and it says much about this writer's style. Julia Phillips may bite your ankles, but Jackie Collins slices through the jugular. American Star is subtitled 'A Love Story', but it only fits the term in the same way as The Joy of Sex II, or a late-night movie on Dutch cable. Collins writes fairytales laced with chili, sex and shopping novels with someone else's husband and a stolen credit card.

Her stories may be soporifically predictable (dominated by Mills and Boon misunderstandings and Cinderella transformations), but the tone is sassy, tough-talking, on the ball. There's no suspense to the plots (you know the hero/heroine will attain enormous fame and riches, usually because the books begin with 'The Present' and work backwards). The prose, however, is like sophisticated torture, jabbing you awake with one word sentences, pseudo-momentous repetitions, and short, machinegun paragraphs ('Yeah. Shut up. Sit still. Butt out. The story of his life'), all punctuated by fuckin's and goddamits and - note extra italic - Oh Jeez]s The dialogue itself is even more clunkingly colloquial - 'what'n t'hell am I supposed t'do?' stutters someone at one point; 'Yer stupid bleedin' cow,' screams a Cockney from the Middle Ages. Collins, all this makes clear, is so streetwise, she's practically sleeping rough.

Her characters meanwhile are busy sleeping around. The post-Aids American Star (in which the characters could be named after the titles of her past books: studs, bitches, lovers, gamblers . . .) is no exception. It's even prefaced by a health warning: watch out for 'descriptions of unprotected sex appropriate to the period in which the story is set . . . remember the importance of practising safe sex and the use of condoms in real life'. Read, enjoy, but don't try any of it out at home. Jeez]

The book opens in the residence of Nick Angel, an impossibly rich and incredibly famous pop star (we know he's rich because almost his first words are: ' 'I'm on my way down. Get out the Ferrari. No driver. And call the airport, tell them to have my plane ready.' '). Nick Angel has almost everything, but not quite. This 'not quite' margin is one commonly explored by Collins, cleverly gratifying as it does two conflicting emotions in the reader: the urge to see rich people unhappy (fame and fortune isn't everything etc) and the over-riding desire for a wish-fulfilling happy ending. What Nick Angel's life lacks is Lauren Roberts, the impossibly rich and incredibly famous top model who was once his childhood sweetheart. Cue: flashback and bulk of story - the struggle from the trailer park, the lucky breaks, the sweet revenge, the violence, the sex, the violent sex.

A lot of water flows under the bridesmaids between Nick and Lauren encounters, and while all this dalliance is held up for disapproval, it's clear that Collins enjoys the 'unsuitable' sex more than the 'suitable'. She's pretty frank when Nick is making out with some nightclub dancer or 'class slut' ('To his dismay the girl was so wet he kept slipping out . . . DeVille was a screamer - their neighbours did nothing but complain . . . 'Holy cow] He was coming]'), but swoons into soft focus when the hero and heroine get it together: 'they were as close as two people can get' . . . 'he took her all the way'. At one point, Collins does try to be more specific but, even here, if Nick's heart's with Lauren, his hands are somewhere else: 'She smelt so clean and fresh. Most girls he'd slept with favoured heavy perfume and had cigarette breath. Dawn Kovak wore musk, he had to scrub to get her scent off him.' It's as if Collin is uncomfortable with anything as down to earth as love - just one whiff of anything straightforward sends her harking back to the unbelievable.

When it comes down to it, Jackie Collins is a funny old fruit. For all the balls-aching posturing, there are some things even she can't face. Take the strange double standard in her description of a trip Nick takes to the lavatory: 'After doing what he had to do he hurried back to the van, his stomach rumbling uncontrollably.' That 'doing what he had to do' is fair enough evasion as it stands, but the passage goes straight on: 'In his pocket he had exactly thirty-five cents. Not enough to do shit.'