Book Review: The Last Treasure Hunt

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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.

Life choices

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A few random thoughts for a Thursday, for no reason other than this is what I woke up thinking this morning.

1) If people could choose their shape without having to concern themselves about diet and exercise, what shape would most choose? What would be desirable if it could be achieved without effort?

I am wondering how much the beauty industry relies on those who are slim feeling superior. I know that perceived beauty does not equate to self confidence, but I do think that those who manage to stay slim feel that they have succeeded where the more rotund have failed. If all could choose their shape, then would most women choose to be the extremely slim shape that is currently sold as desirable? Would most men choose the supposedly attractive muscular torso? We can choose the clothes that we wear, and use this to conform to societal expectations or not. We use dress to express our individuality, or to fit in with the expected codes and fashions. If we could easily choose our body shape it would be interesting to see what choices were made. Things that do not cost, be it time, effort or money, are rarely as highly valued.

2) If people could choose, once only, to stop their body looking older, then at what age would they choose to stop? Given that they would continue to age inside, would an outward display of youth be desirable?

I doubt that many would choose to look five or ten or even fifteen years old for the rest of their lives. What about twenty though, or thirty? Would most truly wish to remain looking young?

I am well into middle age and have found a certain freedom in my changing looks that I had not expected. I have attained a sort of invisibility, no longer seen as desirable by the opposite sex or in competition with my own. I have had my career and I have had my kids. The pressure to succeed has been lifted and I am left with only myself and my loved ones to please. I am of little interest to the rest.

I am no longer bothered by sexist fools who think they flatter me by cat calling or attempting to chat me up. I feel safe when I go out alone, there but overlooked. It is empowering, exciting and a little daunting to have no expectations to meet. This is not to say that I am always comfortable in my own skin. When I am out with my children I dread running into their friends in case the way I look embarrasses them. On my own, however, I can relax. I merge with the background; there but of no particular interest to anyone.

There is still plenty that I wish to achieve in this life but I am now doing it solely for me. It seems that growing older suits me; stopping the clock on my looks would have lost me not just this freedom, but a valuable life lesson. Time travel can be as interesting and educational as exploring new places and cultures.

If all could look young there would be issues with couplings. We respond to looks in choosing a mate. Ageing is there for a reason; without it I believe some would feel deceived.

3) When you think of success, what level of success do you dream of?

I like the idea of being the author of a traditionally published book. As I have yet to write anything that could be submitted for publication this is unlikely to happen. If I did though, I wonder if I would really want success. Of course, I love the idea of being widely read, assuming readers liked my writing that is. I have a pipe dream of seeing my book in a bookshop. Financial independence would be pleasing but to achieve that level of success, which is rare even amongst published authors, there is a cost that I know I would struggle with.

I would dread having to stand up in front of people to promote my book, to give talks or appear in the media. I feel no great need to impress the world, what I would like is to impress my little family. I suspect that they are the least likely to admire anything I could produce. Even if I achieved the perceived success of a best selling author my husband would probably criticise the quality and worth of my writing.

Given the number of people who queue up to audition for televised talent shows there are plenty of people out there who seek even momentary fame. Given the efforts that sports men and women put into improving their rankings there are plenty who crave short term success. Would all of these people be willing to suffer the costs though, the life not lived due to the pressure, intrusion and demands of fame?

I think that I would be happier with a small and quiet success, whatever that word actually means.