August 17, 2015

South on Highland - Liana Maeby


Little A Publishing, 2015.

Four Stars

This novel is filled with raw, heart-wrenching descriptions of drug addiction that don’t hold anything back. The inner world of “Leila Massey” is apparently loosely based on the author’s struggles with her prodigious writing career in Hollywood, all while battling addiction. Some reviewers have taken this “based on a true story” very literally and go as far as worrying about the author’s inevitable slide back into addiction. However, Maeby herself has said that the novel is only about 20% autobiographical – South on Highland was meant to be a satirical memoir, skewering the melodramatic biographies of washed-up Hollywood stars. The book only later morphed into a novel, and I think it works well in this format. The writings is fast paced and cinematic – especially the (mostly fantasy) sections that were written as a screenplay.

The prologue of the novel brings readers right down to the depths of drug use, and we are immediately hooked... The scenes are gritty and unflinching: Maeby doesn’t spare her readers or herself.  In spite of this, she does still find humour in her characters’ circumstances, and some scenes are darkly funny. I especially enjoyed her satirical exploration of teenagers who head out to the desert for a music festival and remain to start their own society. Leila goes there to interview them and ends up getting sucked into the scene before realizing how crazy it all is.

The novel is an exploration of identity – what is left after the drugs take over – yet it also examines the cultural responsibility for addiction. Leila’s agent tries to protect her from Hollywood drug use, yet he does this by flying her to Vegas to party. And again, as Leila works on recovery, her agent and other movie executives tell her that her story lacks drama – it should end in suffering and death. Instead, Leila – and Liana, too – prefer to leave it open to interpretation. Her story is not over yet. The act of telling her story is more important than the end result: as Leila talks about her experiences with her best friend Mari, she says that “sharing a story is one way to make the pain it bears start to disappear.” (Loc. 754). This is an important part of why we write, and why we read.

Maeby has said in interviews that this novel is her way of exploring drug culture without actually killing herself. It is certainly a very realistic and authentic-feeling portrayal of a talented young girl who lets addiction take over. With plenty of in-jokes and topical pop culture references, this novel could easily be made into a movie. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to reading more by Liana Maeby.

I received this book for free from Little A Publishing and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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