Andrew O'Hagan, Author, Book review, England, Faber and Faber, Fiction, literary fiction, Publisher, Scotland, Setting

‘Personality’ by Andrew O’Hagan


Fiction – paperback; Faber and Faber; 327 pages; 2003.

Personality by Andrew O’Hagan explores what it is like to be a child star.

It focuses on Maria Tambini, the daughter of Italian immigrants on the tiny Scottish island of Bute, who is destined to be a star. She has an amazing voice that captivates anyone who hears it.

At the age of 13, she is discovered by a national TV show, and from there, there is no looking back. But the child star, who hungers for fame and glory, also starves herself and before too long, everything is not as it seems . . .

Overall, I found Personality to be disappointing. It never really “grabbed” me and I lost interest before I’d even got a quarter way through it.

The critics, however, seem to have loved it.

I can understand that some might appreciate O’Hagan’s often lush and descriptive language and his ability to capture time and place. His characterisation is also faultless.

But the story was let down by O’Hagan trying to be too clever and experimental in places. The chapters jump all over the place, they go backwards and forwards in time, and are told from a diverse range of viewpoints. Nothing seems to hold it together — apart from the story of Maria’s climb to the top and her subsequent freefall to the bottom. But even that isn’t enough to keep the reader wanting more.

I think the book is weakened by not hearing from Maria; her story is told by players in her life and we never really get to know what is going on in her head.

And the best part of the story, where one fan, Michael, becomes her lover while another becomes her stalker, comes too late in the book (about two-thirds of the way through). A shame really, because I really enjoyed this part of Personality.

All in all, I thought the story was too fragmented and too multi-layered, and, because of that, it lacked coherence, drive and interest — for this fussy reader anyway.

4 thoughts on “‘Personality’ by Andrew O’Hagan”

  1. I haven’t read this, but your outline of the story rings faint bells. Is it based on a true story? The name Lena Zavaroni comes to mind (I could have this wrong)- a child star who died of anorexia about 6 years ago.


  2. He’s got a disclaimer at the book to say it’s based on a conglomeration of people and not any single person , but you’re right, it probably is based more or less on Zavaroni’s real life story.
    Personally, when I read it I kept thinking of that Australian child star, Sally For-the-life-of-me-I-can’t-remember-her-last-name-right-now, who was on Young Talent Time for years and succombed to anorexia. I don’t think she died, but she was certainly very ill for a long time. Do you know the one I mean?


  3. I knew who you meant, but I was thinking Sally Bowles – oops Cabaret. Dementia setting in early.
    I saw her on some ABC music program a year or so ago – she’s around 40 and quite hefty these days(compared to the fragile child and teenage anorexic). She had quite a husky, too-many-cigarettes kind of voice. Quite disconcerting when the image of that sickeningly cute kid is imprinted on the memory.


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