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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Hollywood Dodo

by
Geoff Nicholson


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Hollywood Dodo



Title: The Hollywood Dodo
Author: Geoff Nicholson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004
Length: 323 pages
Availability: The Hollywood Dodo - US
The Hollywood Dodo - UK
The Hollywood Dodo - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : entertaining, though a bit over-extended

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent A 28/5/2004 James Urquhart
Independent on Sunday . 20/6/2004 Murrough O'Brien
The NY Times Book Rev. . 13/6/2004 David Ulin
Salon . 7/7/2004 Stephanie Zacharek
Scotland on Sunday A 23/5/2004 SB Kelly
The Washington Post . 25/6/2004 Carolyn See


  From the Reviews:
  • "Plain weirdness segues into historical gravity and back into delicious farce. Short and snappy chapters alternate between the three narratives to keep the pace up without losing their distinct voices." - James Urquhart, The Independent

  • "Factious and contrived ? To some degree, but Nicholson is so able and funny a writer as to persuade us. He's a great mapmaker, portraying with equal assurance the worlds of restoration London, Hollywood and embittered but charmingly self-deprecating souls." - Murrough O'Brien, Independent on Sunday

  • "It's too connective, too good-natured -- in short, not cynical enough. Indeed, the further we read, the more we come to feel as though nothing is at stake. (...) Clearly, Nicholson means to make a point about artifice and actuality, illusion and truth, Hollywood and history. (...) Ultimately, the problem is that like Rick's movie, The Hollywood Dodo is neither here nor there. It's a 21st-century satire with a 17th-century inner life, and it doesn't leave any coherent impression; it's like a regression that hasn't taken hold." - David Ulin, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Nicholson's books aren't for the faint of heart, and this one is no exception: It may be darkly fanciful at times, but it's never whimsical. And while the book's intricate tendrils don't quite tie up as neatly, or as satisfyingly, as you'd hope, it doesn't matter much." - Stephanie Zacharek, Salon

  • "The sublimely good Geoff Nicholsonís new novel is an absolute treat." - SB Kelly, Scotland on Sunday

  • "Is this book heavy-handed to a fault, or feathery enough to fly away on the very lightest breeze ? Is it profound, or is it the shallowest of literary exercises, not meant to be taken seriously in the slightest ? Beats me." - Carolyn See, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Hollywood Dodo is a three-pronged novel. Alternating chapters set in the present are narrated by Rick McCartney, an aspiring screenwriter ("Auteur of the Future" it says on his business card), and fifty-year-old Dr. Henry Cadwallader, who is accompanying his daughter, Dorothy, to Hollywood where she is looking for her big break. Interspersed between these are chapters from an unpublished novel called The Restoration of the Dodo which Rick stole when he visited London; set in 17th century England, it is the story of William Draper, a medical student who becomes obsessed with dodos.
       Not unexpectedly, the personal stories are ones of failure. Auteur Rick goes around pitching his film idea, The Penultimate Dodo: "This is the dildo movie, right ?" he usually hears at the beginning of his spiel, and he probably would do a lot better if that's what he led potential producers to believe. Between the dodo-concept and the word 'penultimate' in the title, it's clear he's going nowhere fast in this town.
       Dorothy has been enticed to LA by a Hollywood agent she met in London. He invited her over, suggesting she stands a chance of making it in the movies. As soon as she gets there it's clear she doesn't. (Dad Henry, on the other hand .....) And fictional dodo-loving William Draper winds up with a skin condition that makes it impossible for him to practise medicine in the traditional way, and while he does get his hands on a dodo (and hopes to find a mate for it, in order to start breeding them), well, we all know what happened to the proverbial dodo.
       Nicholson weaves quite a tangled tale out of these stories, though it's admirably thought through and winds up rather neatly tied together. Rick and the Cadwalladers meet on the plane from London. Rick has a panic attack and Henry reassures him; eventually, he is the only semi-inside connexion they have in Los Angeles, and he and they find they might all be able to help each other out.
       Quite a few secondary characters fill out the novel (and help add to the mayhem); except for the unconvincing and awkwardly thrust in past-life therapist Carla Mendez (who helps Rick connect with the 17th century, and warns all and sundry about future dangers) they're an entertaining and enjoyable lot.
       Henry hooks up with real estate agent Barbara Scott, a one-time movie star Nicholson has pegged perfectly (and whose keys, connexions, and weaknesses help make the ensuing mess all the more glorious). Rick has a gadget-building roommate -- who might be able to put together a mechanical dodo to help make the movie-pitch more dramatic. And there's the movie memorabilia shop, the Beauty Vault, that Henry is drawn to (he's a movie buff, if not completely fanatical) -- and the green baize door at the back of the store. On his first visit, the shop owner Perry Martin (who happens to suffer from the same skin affliction as William Draper) nods towards it:

He seemed to imply that anything I was looking for might be found behind the door, if only I could name it. But of course I couldn't. At that moment I didn't think I was looking for anything at all.
       Dreams, of course, don't quite come true in la-la land, but the movie world is full of the strange and unexpected, and Henry -- initially aloof and wary (whereas his daughter and Rick are ambitious (if completely misguided) dreamers) -- is, of course, the one who handles things the best way. He doesn't give in to the town, while Dorothy, for example, transforms herself to try to fit in -- to no avail, of course.
       Rick decidedly also does not know how to make his mark. He decides that one way to get his dodo project rolling is to make some porn: shoot it quick, use the equipment to shoot a mini-version of the dodo film that he can use to raise some cash ..... It's a plan -- but it's a Hollywood plan, and goes wonderfully wrong every which way one can imagine.
       Nicholson keeps the surprises coming, including the unexpected solution to most of their problems (or at least the most pressing one). Desperate Rick, cool Henry, and the whole gaggle of other characters make for a satisfyingly complicated and then nicely resolved story. The voices (Rick's and Henry's, each telling their side of the story) are quite convincing, and if the 17th century interludes don't seem truly tied in to the contemporary story, they also offer a good tale.
       The Hollywood-dodo connexion -- dreams and the largely futile struggle to keep them alive -- is nicely done, and not over-done. Nicholson also gets the movie world down fairly well, though this has been well-mined territory and he doesn't offer much that is new. (Many of Nicholson's novels have been optioned for the movies, not a one has been made; he currently reportedly divides his time between Los Angeles and London, and it's clear that he's writing from some (bitter) experience as well.)
       Thoroughly entertaining, The Hollywood Dodo isn't quite as sharp, or tightly written, as one might wish, and Nicholson stays with the safer, dependable options most of the time; a few more risks along the way would have helped (though at least there is that one final one, a daring idea pulled off very nicely). Still: it's a clever, creative story, nicely put together. Worthwhile.

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Links:

The Hollywood Dodo: Reviews: Geoff Nicholson: Other books by Geoff Nicholson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       English author Geoff Nicholson, born in Sheffield in 1953, has written a flurry of novels. He lives in London and Los Angeles.

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© 2004-2014 the complete review

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