The Last Treasure Hunt, by Jane Alexander, explores the lure of fame and the capricious nature of celebrity. It lays bare the personal cost, and the impact on family and friends, when one man succumbs to the draw and deceits of a publicity dependent lifestyle.
Thirty year old Campbell Johnstone works as a barman in a rundown Glasgow pub. He shares a decrepit flat, owned by his financially successful brother, with his cousin Roddy who is studying for a PhD. When Roddy is offered a paid fellowship in America it hits Campbell that all of his family and friends are making something of their lives, all except him. In a maudlin state he Googles the name of the most outwardly successful of the lot of them – Oscar nominated actress and old childhood friend, Eve Sadler.
The gossip hungry internet informs Campbell that the Hollywood star is currently filming at a location in his home city. Campbell and Roddy decide to gatecrash the site and, somewhat to their surprise, succeed in getting through. Eve recognises Campbell and agrees to give him the number of her hotel, where they meet for a drink. A careless update on social media is followed by a brief kiss, and the trajectory of their lives is changed.
Campbell is thrown into the limelight. For a brief period every tabloid newspaper is clamouring for his story, doorstopping his flat and his parents’ home in the hope of gleaning exclusives on Campbell and Eve’s relationship. Their mothers had been friends and the families had holidayed together when the children were young. The papers see the potential for a lucrative love story of the sort their readers will lap up.
Campbell makes the decision to play along, selling exclusive rights to the lie the papers seek. His burgeoning bank balance enables him to paper over the cracks forming in his friendships as a result of his actions. He employs an agent, moves to London, and begins to believe in his own worth. It is only when he veers off the course dictated by his relationship with Eve, to establish a reason why he should be regarded in his own right, that he realises how fragile this gilded lifestyle is.
Although straplined ‘A Modern Media Morality Tale’, this story is not preachy. Campbell is foolish but all too believable. He allows himself to be sucked into an industry created to feed the insatiable appetites of a public hungry for real life fairy stories, where the players are either heroes or villains, a role must be played, and attention spans are short. He is naive in imagining that his part is anything more than temporary. He suppresses thoughts of the cost to others, the hurt he inflicts in order to fan the flame of his fame.
I enjoyed the structure of the story, the way snapshots of the childhood holidays were interspersed with the contemporary action. The author has drawn the petty cruelties and self centredness of children to perfection. The cast is ordinary, neither poor nor rich, overly successful nor downtrodden. It is conceivable that this could happen to someone each reader may know.
The catalyst for the action and the denouement required some literary licence but worked well enough. Campbell was foolish but not evil, insensitive but not mindfully cruel. It would be good to think that he could learn from this experience and be more satisfied with what he has. Perhaps that is harder than it seems for all.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Saraband.