It took me ages to read Me Cheeta, mainly because I lost the first copy and had to wait while Amazon delivered a replacement. In the meantime I read Murder At The Academy Awards™ by Joan Rivers, which coincidentally was quite similar, except that it was rude about living movie stars rather than dead ones.
Anyway. To begin with I had a conceptual problem with Me Cheeta because I couldn’t quite work out what it was for. Why publish a fictional autobiography of a real animal? If it had no ambition other than to be funny, would that sustain 300-odd pages?
To begin with, I didn’t think it would. It’s full of scandalous stories about legendary Hollywood characters, but without knowing whether they’re true, false or vicious rumour I couldn’t quite bring myself to care about them. I had the same problem I have when I read fantasy novels (OK, I only tried it once), which was that without an anchor to something I recognise that tells me what’s real and what isn’t, none of it matters.
Except that bit by bit, it grew on me. There is a certain amount of scurrilous badmouthing of people who don’t seem to deserve it, but as it goes along it turns into something quite different – a love story, a poem, a tale of loss and loneliness, which is certainly made up, but now that we’re definitely in the realm of fiction that’s suddenly OK.
And there is some beautiful writing. You know when an image is so lovely you have to stop and drink it in for a few moments before you can carry on reading? Those images must be different for different people, and anyway they probably only work in context, but I’m going to share one with you all the same because I think it’s just perfect. Here’s Cheeta describing the view from the terrace of a movie star’s mansion:
The lawn that rolled your eye down to the inevitable rectangle of turquoise was as densely irridescent as a hummingbird’s breast. If you watched very closely you could see the dents left in it by the gardeners’ footsteps disappear slowly back into its sheen, like the marks of fingers on a human arm.
Isn’t that great?
And it is very funny, and very smartly written in places. And, well, the last chapter made me cry. So despite my initial misgivings, I am recommending it wholeheartedly.