The novel cure: Literary prescriptions for too much fame


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The Independent Culture

Ailment: Fame, too much

Cure: I Was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn

Fame: it's the holy grail of the 21st century. But those grails are not always what they seem. The pressures of fame are well documented, and the names of those that have crashed and burnt after OD-ing on public attention, drugs, fast cars and a profusion of partners, continue to be emblazoned across our media heavens. Whether you're a washed-up child star, or a Seventies rocker yearning to step out of the limelight, we offer a ticket out: a heroine who only discovers what it means to be alive once she's escaped her fame.

I was Amelia Earhart is the imagined ever-after of America's favourite aviatrix, Amelia Earhart, had she not been killed on her second attempt to circumnavigate the world.

Pushed by GP, the husband and manager she doesn't love, she soars into the blue in her twin-engine Lockheed Electra with her navigator, Noonan (weighed down with a heavy heart of his own) – two people half-hoping to crash.

And somewhere over the Pacific, crash they do. But in Mendelsohn's version, they survive and live Castaway-style on a desert island. As they gradually abandon hope, they also abandon their old selves. Earhart begins to absorb the natural world around her like "sand soaking up the water after a wave". Noonan takes to wearing flowers in his hair and gesticulating wildly at birds. From the brink of madness they are reborn, and the lost aeronaut is able at last to explore the "vast landscape" of her soul.

For those who feel besieged by public scrutiny, or are simply fed up with a culture that encourages such behaviour, this novella will leave you feeling sluiced out with salt water. Stop chasing after false gods. Find your own island and let the façade fall away. Maybe, like Earhart and Noonan, you'll find your true heaven, too.

'The Novel Cure, An A-Z of Literary Remedies' (Canongate, £17.99);