Friday, 8 January 2016

Review: 'The Bette Davis Club' by Jane Lotter

'What a dump!'
With those words Bette Davis sassed her way into my heart a few years ago and since then she has never left me. I think most women go through a phase where they're fascinated with Classic Hollywood, the timeless elegance behind which so many secrets were hidden. So when you find a book that seems to tap into that energy, you wish for it. And if you're really lucky, Lake Union Publishing will make that wish a reality. Thanks to Netgalley and Lake Union Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 08/12/2015
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
The morning of her niece’s wedding, Margo Just drinks a double martini and contemplates the many mistakes she’s made in her fifty-odd years of life. Spending three decades in love with a wonderful but unattainable man is pretty high up on her list of missteps, as is a long line of unsuccessful love affairs accompanied by a seemingly endless supply of delicious cocktails. 
When the young bride flees—taking with her a family heirloom and leaving behind six hundred bewildered guests—her mother offers Margo fifty grand to retrieve her spoiled brat of a daughter and the invaluable property she stole. So, together with the bride’s jilted and justifiably crabby fiancé, Margo sets out in a borrowed 1955 red MG on a cross-country chase. Along the way, none of what she discovers will be quite what she expected. But it might be exactly what she’s been seeking all along. 
From acclaimed humor writer Jane Lotter comes this madcap, laugh-out-loud adventure, The Bette Davis Club.
As I said, there's something brilliant about Classic Hollywood. It sparkles incredibly bright, all the men are in suits, the alcohol flows freely, the cigarettes smoke themselves and Bette Davis was always sassy. Some of that magic has been lost and I'm not quite sure that current Hollywood could recapture it. And in some sense this novel is a critique of Hollywood, of the life style it has been selling us as admirable or desirable for all these years. Over the run of the novel, Lotter slowly unpacks what's truly behind the glitz and glam of the Hollywood world. The rush for money, the profit over quality-mentality that Hollywood seems to be dominated by nowadays, it all gets criticised in The Bette Davis Club without the book becoming moralising. Initially it was quite difficult to establish what time-period the novel was actually in, since Margo seems to live so happily in the past. On the one hand this confusion adds to the charm of the novel, but at other moments it rips you right out of the story.

This novel is beautifully chaotic in the way of, yes, the Classic Hollywood movies. There's so much drama, so much mistaken love and plenty of excitement. And all of it is packed in a layer of designer outfits and exclusive locations. The humour that Jane Lotter is known for shines through in all parts of the story. There are one-liners, jokes that build up over time and those beautifully touching quiet moments of contemplation. It doesn't always work and it requires the reader who loves detailed and dense plots to maybe take a back-seat. Some things are too easy, but Lotter carries it off with a kind of charm.

There are quite some heavy themes in this book, some of which can't be discussed without spoiling the book. However, the major role that addiction, to drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, you name it, plays in a person's life is probably the key one. Lotter finds a way to not make things explicit until they need to be, at which point the reader can look back and recongnize all the little hints she dropped throughout. At times the twists in the book felt a little too dramatic but it was interesting to see how she let her characters deal with their own mess. For some the attitudes in this book may feel a bit blase but within the novel it works.

I give this novel...

3 Universes!

If you're planning a quick getaway in the midst of January or February then The Bette Davis Club is the best book to bring with you. Imagine yourself lounging at a pool with a cool drink and this book will fit right in. For me Lotter's novel flew by in a single sitting and I spent an incredibly fun evening. I chuckled, I laughed and I got some movie recommendations out of it. I'd recommend this to fans of Old Hollywood and Women's fiction.


  1. My Book Club is reading this book in October and I am hosting and need Questions for Discussion. There are none on the web. Any help would be so very appreciated.

    1. Such a great pick for your book club! I think the book serves very well for the discussion of addiction in literature, or why certain characters put such an effort into creating a facade and what they hope to gain from it. As my review says, I loved the nostalgic feel of the book, the Classic Hollywood-essence of it, which I think can be a lot of fun to discuss. Finally, Margo's job as a conservationist is fascinating because it begs the question how much time we should spend preserving our past. I hope this helps and good luck with your discussion!
      Juli @ Universe in Words