SHELF LIFE

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The Independent Culture
2 Too Damn Famous by Joan Collins (Orion pounds 15.99) "A Novel" it says helpfully, just in case you should think this racy portrait of a top soap star with pale skin, beautiful green eyes and black hair could possibly be autobiography. The Skeffingtons, the TV saga of a fabulously wealthy and dysfunctional family, features as much feuding off-screen as on. Head of the household is patriarchal Charles, played by a status-crazy ageing English actor, his screen-wife is a statuesque fair-skinned blonde, ravaged by sun-worship, and our heroine, the put-upon Katherine "Kitty" Bennet, plays arch-bitch Georgia, Charles's ex-wife. The two co-stars are incensed at Kitty's popularity with scriptwriters and viewers, her druggy ex- husband screams abuse down the phone and her teenage son blames her for the breakdown of the marriage. There's a long litany of gripes about lazy, dishonest servants, vapid press agents, and paparazzi who tread on your Guccis. Kitty is not exactly an engaging heroine - her problems are not ours - but she has a fair amount of the gutsy self-knowledge we can confidently attribute to her creator, and the book is good on the petty indignities of the celebrity lifestyle: the constant dieting and anxiety, the moaning slacker offspring and the kissy-kissy artificiality.

2 With animals, you either get it or you don't. Either you would lay down your life for them, think they're superior to humans, believe they can understand every word you say to them - or you wouldn't, don't and can't. This makes Carla Lane's Instead of Diamonds (Michael Josesph pounds 12.99) a little hard to fathom if you're not of the bunny-hugging persuasion. You either coo along with Lane when she gushes about her fluffy friends, or she makes you feel faintly nauseous. Not that there isn't some honest-to-goodness Liverpudlian humour to be gleaned in this rambling (but still brief) autobiography from the creator of TV's Bread and The Liver Birds. Naturally enough, she's strong on dialogue, having kept an ear out from an early age. The nurse stitching her up after a gruesome birth says: "Yell as much as you like, love, but keep your bum on the table." Young Carla (or Romana Barrack as was) visits a aged fortune teller who divides the cards into four piles: " 'Wot's going to happen, wot will happen, wot has to happen, wot no one can hinder.' I wanted to point out to her that they all meant the same..." Needless to say, said gypsy sage proves remarkably prescient. Sadly, there's very little on the wonderful Butterflies, and lots on the tedious Bread, but for the rest it's a saga of endless dogs and cats - and why they're preferable to men - occasional interleavings of heartfelt poetry and a succession of increasingly grand houses.

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