In the early stages of this novel it is difficult to work out whether the focus will be on June Bloom, a 29-year-old, broke junior comedy writer who believes she is a complete failure or Hugo Best, late-night chat show host who has just completed the last episode of his long-running TV career.
“The worst I have suffered was no success. I was twenty-nine with an entry-level job and unable to pay my bills. I had been provided for. I hadn’t been harmed or held back, I hadn’t been scarred, but I had quietly failed anyway.” (Page 37)
Reading the opening chapter I begin to question whether it is June’s sadness that the reader will be forced to focus on or whether there is a sorrow within Hugo that is about to be uncovered. While June feels like a failure, she still has years of a career ahead of her, whereas Hugo has just witnessed his coming to a potential close.
“If anything, I was supposed to feel bad for him. He was the one who had reached the end of something momentous. He was the one who found himself on the other side of it, in the uncharted afterward…” (Page 64)
The story unfolds over just one weekend, each day forming a new chapter in the book. This does, I believe, lead to a slower-paced novel and while I appreciate a lot of detail has been added into the narrative, exposing the activities of each day, it does lack the quickness that shorter chapters create.
Within these chapters we begin to uncover the true toll a career in the limelight can have, not just on their own life but of those closest to them. How many wives is it acceptable to go through when you are a well-known comedian whose had an amazing run on prime-time TV? Should slight indiscretions be overlooked even by those they end up hurting the most?
“Something deserved to be treated delicately, even if it wasn’t me.” (Page 189)
But what brings this pair together? (other than potentially the obvious). He is, after all, a newly-retired, well-known celebrity and she is a junior writer on his now-defunct show.
How does Hugo’s long-time suffering manager, Laura, fit into this story and why does it seem like his 17-year-old son, Spencer, creates more sexual tension with June than he can muster?
The more I read, the more judgemental I regard June to be. She seems very despondent with life in general, clinically depressed even, and is perhaps projecting her unhappiness and lack of self-worth onto others.
“…hadn’t considered that the object of my repulsion might be me.” (Page 191)
I can’t quite make out what relationship is forming between Hugo and June. Is he an unhappy retiree looking for a weekend fling, trying to confirm he still holds an element of appeal for a younger generation? Is she hoping that a weekend with Hugo will improve her career prospects?
“…I was having coffee late at night with a famous comedian. This is what I had longed for. This is what I had, in my obscurity been missing.” (Page 184)
Perhaps she feels that her life-long obsession with this man is finally coming to some sort of fruition and she will become the last in a considerable line of girlfriends and wives. Or is it, that she felt like she couldn’t say no to a weekend with her successful boss? That in some way it would be detrimental to her career plans.
“My crush on him had been cultivated over a lifetime and only grown more complex. He was a person to me now, and a person who could help me if he chose to.” (Page 242)
Would I recommend Stay Up with Hugo Best?
Regardless of their reasons, Stay Up with Hugo Best, is a novel dedicated to their one weekend together. Is it action-packed? Not really. I would have to say that in places the story runs a bit flat, lacking the excitement I anticipated.
Considering that the story was written over just one weekend I expected lots of laughter, antidotes about the life of a comedian and the exploration of sexual tension. Instead, it read more like a weekend that the most average of people would experience, although not on such a grand scale. I can, after all, sit around and watch TV all weekend, I just don’t have the swimming pool in the back garden.
Why then did I finish it? Perhaps the fact that it did feel like I was reading about anyone’s average weekend spurred me on. Regardless of money and privilege, it turns out that even the rich potentially have average weekends. Which in a way, was quite eye-opening (if of course, this does reflect the lives of the rich and famous).
I also wanted to see where Erin Somers was going with the storyline. Labelled as a fictional work for the #MeToo age, I wanted to see how the sexual politics of the novel would unfold. I wished to understand more about those individuals who become so infatuated with one person that they are prepared to drop all at a moment’s notice to spend time with them regardless of how memorable or insignificant their encounter will later become.
The undertones, if not the novel itself, will surely make the reader think. There are some serious issues explored within the narrative – not only sexual politics in the workplace but also sexual relations with minors, abuse of power, depression and the feeling of being never quite good enough.
It may not be a novel that wows straight away, but it is one that once you start to reflect, it will make you think.
Have you read Stay Up with Hugo Best? Would you recommend it to others?
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