Boldface Names

By Shinan Govani

National Post gossip columnist Shinan Govani follows the time-honored prescript to “write what you know” in his fiction debut, a novel that follows the adventures of a Toronto-based gossip columnist (he prefers the designation “social archivist”) named Ravi who writes for the National Mirror. Without giving too much away, the Roman Holiday-storyline involves Ravi’s squiring around a wannabe pop princess who may in fact be real media royalty. This gives Ravi/Govani plenty of space to do what he does best, which is people-watching and party-hopping, obsessing over chatter, celebrities, and clothes.

There isn’t much more to Ravi’s world than this. It would be trite to call it superficial, but the shoe fits. Ravi himself has no inner or personal life. His wife Rory is only social camouflage, his mother a source of ethnic humour. Dialogue is made to do most of the work throughout, with the prose being a kind of zippy column-ese to fill in the gaps (“sunshine vomited out of her copiously lipsticked mouth”). References to recent movies colourize the self-consciously Old Hollywood plot, with wildly mixed results. The illuminated cross on Montreal’s Mont Royal beams “whiter than Meryl Streep’s hair in The Devil Wears Prada.” Sitting in an airport lobby Ravi tries to affect a “Bill Murray-in-Lost-in-Translation” look but is immediately mistaken for “that dude in the stoner comedy Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.” Rory under the sheets looks like “Julie Roberts in bed with Hugh Grant in Notting Hill,” but when Ravi gets up two pages later he leaves her “to gum-chew like one of those ballplayers in A League of Their Own.” There is quite a lot of this.

Along the way there are random thoughts offered up on the nature of fame and celebrity, and the business of reporting on the same, lots of star-spotting and name-dropping, some roman-a-clef cuteness (including Lord and Lady Ivory, and the Formidable Authoress herself presiding over an explosive Giller Prize gala), all of which is delivered with a gentleness that never quite rises to the level of satire. A Canadian Glamorama it is not.

What it is, in other words, is exactly the book you would expect it to be – topical, inoffensive, relentlessly glib in a charming sort of way, and light as air. To complain about it not being something more is pointless. In all likelihood much of it will be incomprehensible to readers in a couple of years anyway, when its boldfaced names have faded.

Review first published in Quill & Quire, September 2009.

%d bloggers like this: