The Bestseller by Olivia Goldsmith
Published by HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: August 1, 1996
Genres: Fiction, Chick Lit
The Bestseller had two things going for it when I saw it in my library online catalog. One, it was Available Now so not hold list to wait through and two, the author’s name, Olivia Goldsmith, sounded vaguely familiar. Sure enough, she was a popular writer in the 80s and 90s and I’d read several of her books. It’s wild to go back an author I thoroughly enjoyed 25 years ago and see what I think now, after almost a decade of reviewing.
The novel is straightforward in its structure. Davis & Dash is a venerable publishing house currently run by Gerald Ochs Davis Jr (referred to as G.O.D. by most of his staff and not in a flattering way). Gerald fancies himself a writer, but is not and so gets creative selling his books. Pam is his editor-in-chief and after 20 years in the industry is known for her ability to pick both commercial and literary winners. Except now it’s most Emma, an editor who reports to her, doing all the work, while Pam boozes it up, seduces anyone who stands still long enough, and tries to find shady ways to line her own pockets.
Writers and agents round out the rest of the cast with Camilla, Susann, Terry, and Judith, as authors and each with their own twist. Terry’s is the biggest in that she kills herself after her manuscript is rejected yet again. Her mother Opal comes to NYC to wrap up her affairs, finds the manuscript and makes it her mission to get her daughter published. Judith has been persuaded by one of her professors (now her husband) to write a book with him. A novel he appropriates as his own. Susann is the veteran whose best years are behind her, but now has a lavish lifestyle to maintain.
There’s nothing particularly new about The Bestseller, but for anyone who loves the book world in all its iterations this behemoth (almost 700 pages) is a delight. Neither the plot or the characters are so taxing the book can’t be put down for days and picked up again without missing a beat. Goldsmith is the reassuring kind of writer who balances the scales throughout her writing. Bad agent: Alfred Byron. Good agent: Alex Simmons. Young, shy author: Camilla Clapfish. Seasoned, but worn-out bestselling author: Susann Baker Edmonds. And so it goes. The plot is the same way, no ambiguity at all, just a steady, linear buildup to all karmic debt being settled in ways both funny and final.
That’s just one of the reasons I was so happy with this book. Goldsmith is witty and The Bestseller is peppered with hilarious pop culture references of the times. What was not appreciated was Susann Baker Edmonds being described with arthritic claws and drooping eyelids. I’m picturing 75-80 age range, but towards end of the novel she announces she’s 58. WHAT?! That’s uncalled for. Hurt feelings aside, The Bestseller was pure entertainment. There is nothing literary about it, no character development, just a raunchy, behind-the-scenes roll in the publishing hay. It was exactly the outsized dramedy I needed.
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