Car­rie Fisher’s war on un­hap­pi­ness

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - Books -

Like most peo­ple on the planet, when I first saw Car­rie Frances Fisher she was up­load­ing an SOS holo­gram of her­self into a beep­ing droid: “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope,” she re­peated in an earnest flick­er­ing loop, while cast­ing ner­vous looks over her shoul­der.

From that vul­ner­a­ble first ap­pear­ance, Princess Leia goes on to es­tab­lish her­self as war­rior, re­sis­tance leader, heroine and leg­end. This was Car­rie’s tra­jec­tory in life, too. Cer­tainly, I can think of no fig­ure who did more over their life­time to emerge from the holo­graphic, cel­lu­loid or dig­i­tal shim­mer of star­dom into solid, au­then­tic re­al­ity.

With­out ever los­ing the charisma, mys­tery and glam­our that were both her in­her­i­tance and her achieve­ment, Car­rie un­cov­ered the livid bruises of her life with a dig­nity and hon­esty that con­nected her with mil­lions. Avoid­ing the least hint of self-pity or grandios­ity, she spoke and wrote on ad­dic­tion, self-harm and men­tal health well be­fore such can­dour was an ev­ery­day oc­cur­rence on break­fast TV.

On top of the at­ten­tion she re­ceived al­most from the mo­ment she was born, in Oc­to­ber 1956 to show­biz glam­our cou­ple Deb­bie Reynolds and Ed­die Fisher, Car­rie en­dured that spe­cial tor­ture vis­ited on fe­male stars, scru­ti­nised with a re­morse­less in­ten­sity that might be ex­pected to desta­bilise even the most men­tally ro­bust.

She rose above it all. “An­gels can fly,” G K Ch­ester­ton wrote, “be­cause they can take them­selves lightly.” Car­rie’s weapon was wit. And the charm and the bril­liance of it burst in on the world with the pub­li­ca­tion, in 1987, of her match­lessly funny, feisty and lov­able first novel, Post­cards from the Edge, a far from se­curely locked ro­man-à-clef whose pro­tag­o­nist, Suzanne Vale, would ap­pear to be a thinly dis­guised ver­sion of Car­rie her­self.

The novel be­gins in epis­to­lary mode, of­fer­ing a suc­ces­sion of post­card-sized com­mu­ni­ca­tions. There fol­lows a sec­tion writ­ten as di­ary en­tries, then a sparkling chap­ter of “he said/she said” di­a­logue, be­fore the book gath­ers up its skirts and can­ters to a close in a more con­ven­tional third-per­son mode. The com­bi­na­tion of this mas­tery of form, the bl­iz­zard of co­caine, the hu­mour and – caught up in it all – a mor­dant, ironic, lost soul whose story it is, gave rise at the time of pub­li­ca­tion to com­par­isons with the new school of so-called Brat Pack writ­ing that was mak­ing a big noise on both coasts of Amer­ica in the Eight­ies.

Jay McIn­er­ney’s Bright Lights, Big City and Tama Janowitz’s Slaves of New York pi­o­neered this sharp new lit­er­ary style on the East Coast, and Bret Easton El­lis did the same for Los An­ge­les with Less Than Zero. All three were suc­ces­sively pub­lished in the three years lead­ing up to Post­cards from the Edge. That the broad­sheet re­view­ers of the day could place Car­rie se­ri­ously in the same bracket as such thor­ough­bred and ex­clu­sively lit­er­ary writ­ers as th­ese re­veals some­thing of the qual­ity of her tal­ent.

Those other three books were all trans­ferred quickly to the big screen, and Car­rie her­self wrote the film adap­ta­tion of Post­cards from the Edge; Mike Ni­chols di­rected, Meryl Streep played Suzanne and Shirley MacLaine scin­til­lated as Doris Mann, chan­nelling all the ski-pant charm and mu­si­cal piz­zazz of Car­rie’s real life mama. It is a won­der­ful film that stands up to­day as one of the best achieve­ments in the ca­reers of all con­cerned. The orig­i­nal novel, how­ever, is in­hab­ited and in­formed by the in­te­rior thoughts, words and work­ings of char­ac­ter in a way that no film could hope to match. It is the richer, deeper ex­pe­ri­ence.

In her first novel, reis­sued this week, the late ‘Star Wars’ ac­tress hit back, says Stephen Fry

Suzanne should not be in­ter­preted as a re­li­able self-por­trait, how­ever much she might ap­pear to be one. In all the years I knew her, Car­rie never ex­hib­ited any of the self-pity in which her hero is prone to lux­u­ri­ate. Rue­ful, wist­ful and naive ex­pec­ta­tions of ro­mance and res­cue are play­fully ex­plored in the novel, and Suzanne, for all her bravado, is never quite as strong or re­al­is­tic about life as her cre­ator.

Car­rie’s own jour­ney through the hell of ad­dic­tion and re­cov­ery by way of man­i­fold ther­a­pies, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal and even elec­tro­con­vul­sive (“I love it,” she once told me, “but it does af­fect your mem­ory. Oh and the other thing is – it af­fects your mem­ory.”), is recorded in her sub­se­quent books and di­aries, but this novel, with its en­ergy, bounce and de­liv­ery of a loud laugh on al­most ev­ery page, stands as a dec­la­ra­tion of war on two fronts: on nor­mal and on un­happy.

It was a war that Car­rie Fisher fought with hon­our, hon­esty, good hu­mour and stun­ning brav­ery through­out her short and fab­u­lous life.

Mom­mie dear­est: Meryl Streep, left, and Shirley MacLaine in Mike Ni­chols’s 1990 film of Post­cards from the Edge; and with Fisher at the pre­miere, be­low

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.