HarperCollins, £20, 239pp). £18 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Marilyn Monroe: FragmentsEdited by Stanley Buchthal and Bernard Comment
Friday 22 October 2010
Last week, Damien Hirst's former flat-sitter defended his attempt to exhibit the artist's old diary by stating: "I thought it was an interesting historic artefact". Unsurprisingly, Hirst thought otherwise. Reading Marilyn Monroe's intimate musings in this long-awaited collection, one cannot help but wonder whether Monroe would be similarly mortified, or whether these papers are precious "historic artefacts" which should be published regardless. Of course, there are differences between the two cases: Hirst's diary fell into his flat-sitter's hands by accident while Monroe bequeathed her possessions to the eminent acting teacher, Lee Strasberg, whom she trusted implicitly and who held on to them until his death. It was his widow, Anna Strasberg, unacquainted with Monroe, who sold scores of items at the famed Christie's auction of 1999. She has now offered up hitherto uncatalogued "fragments" of Monroe's diary notes, poems, letters, lists, for public consumption. The book's editors are sure Monroe would have approved: "We have shared their (Anna Strasberg and her sons') desire to create a book that, we would like to think, would have pleased its author."
Her poems are, by far, the heart of the book. She describes the human spirit as a "cobweb in the wind"; a sleeping lover's vulnerability is tenderly captured; a suicide fantasy turns on itself to celebrate the beauty of a world that Monroe is not ready to leave. Her depression, her romantic spirit, her impenetrable loneliness is all there, and these poems could have been published on their own, albeit, in a slimmer volume.
Reading the more excruciatingly intimate material, one wonders if it really would "please its author", not least because it is published in the form of a slinky coffee-table book with unseen texts that are relatively slim and padded-out with half blank pages. Given that the darker diary notes are often written in garbled syntax and evidently meant for no other eyes than her own, this form appears unsavoury. While the personal detritus will undoubtedly offer Monroe fans and scholars a further glimpse into her world, some parts feel intrusive to read. Many of the notes, written on hotel stationery, are chaotic with sentences scrawled across the page, interrupted by arrows and asides. Her regular therapy sessions leave a clear mark, veering from self-help mantras to a calmer, keener self-analysis.
A smutty, voyeuristic after-taste is left by passages in which she dwells on "that wonderful titillating feeling" of being desired by her first husband, and later when she notes the sensuous pleasure of being braless under a sweater. In a moment of self-consciousness in 1943, she writes: "I know when I sit down and read this I will blanche at the thought of having written so much crap". This is not to say this material is "crap" but that the reader may end up blanching alongside Monroe's ghost.
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