It's a book about a model, stupid

INSTRUCTIONS NOT INCLUDED Paula Hamilton Michael Joseph, pounds 15.99
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The Independent Online
I've just finished reading Paula Hamilton's book Instructions not included. Why did I continue to turn page after page? Why, when nothing I know or have ever read about Ms Hamilton would indicate she could write anything as fascinating as a shopping list?

It crossed my mind as I picked up the book that its publishers have a good reputation. They're not fools, they don't publish any old thing. They haven't stinted on print and production. Nice quality paper, thoughtfully chosen typeface.

So, you figure, maybe there's a moment of revelation, some extraordinary turning point, a sprinkling of what used to be called wit and wisdom, maybe an insight or two, or even a paragraph of good writing in Ms Hamilton's autobiography that caused an editor to say, "Fantastic. Let's go with it." You read on because sometimes it's great to be proved wrong. I was wrong last night about England's 4-1 win over Holland.

You've never heard of Paula Hamilton? You haven't the faintest idea who she is? As my friend Mr Bywater would say, "She's on the cusp of the zeitgeist. A woman for our time. A creature of the age." Model, actress. Tall, slim, blonde, totally self-absorbed, educationally challenged, she has a dysfunctional family, she likes elephants and she's married and dated difficult men. There have been ugly moments with drug and alcohol abuse and more therapy sessions than anyone has a right to know about. In common with our own dear Princess of Wales, she speaks fluent psychobabble.

At the apex of her career she made a three-minute TV commercial for Volkswagen where she threw away her boyfriend's car keys. This made her incredibly famous and sought after by tabloid journalists and armies of photographers. As she herself puts it poignantly on page 139, "Airlines let it slip when celebrities travel. How else do you think the press know when we fly in and out of the country?"

Interesting about celebrities in the Nineties, isn't it? You don't need to be able to do anything at all and the one thing a celebrity doesn't need is talent. Talent? What's that?

What also strikes you in a dull, thudding, well now-you-come-to-ask way about Paula Hamilton is she doesn't seem to have learnt anything, although by the last chapter she's off alcohol, in love and has had an emotional experience reading Naomi Woolf's The Beauty Myth.

Mostly when you read an autobiography you feel something at some point for the writer. This is an unusual book in that, as a reader, you feel nothing. I guess the endless "I suffered major mood swings, I was oversensitive and hyperactive. I fabricated the truth", "The dope in Mexico was strong, but not strong enough - my feelings of shame, inadequacy and low self- worth started to come up again", "Relationships at the best of times are hard work. I believe great skills are required for a successful relationship", "I felt abandoned, confused, lost and hopeless", "Today as a result of all my experiences I have learned to put myself first; that way I am strong for me - therefore strong for you" get to you. You nod off, you get distracted by a passing cat. You consider hoovering for the first time in years. You wonder idly what's happening in publishing.

This is from a serious publisher. Has the tabloid effect crept up like the tide to slowly engulf everything? God, I've just thought. We could be in for a slew of books from the other cusp of zeitgeist women. All those women with zero talent and nothing to say. The back of my neck is becoming uncomfortably warm just thinking about it. The life and times of Tamara Beckwith, Kate Moss, Anthea Turner, Ulrika Jonsson, Gaby Roslin, Tara Parker Tomkinson, Tania Bryer. There's hundreds of them. Indistinguishable. Listen I shan't say more. But if you've got pounds 15.99 going spare, go and buy one or two of Stevie Davies's books. They're in paperback, published by the Women's Press, and the woman writes like a dream. If you're mad about good books, you're going to be hopping mad if anyone persuades you to plough through Instructions not included. Trust me. Don't.

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