Until I saw this copy of ‘Between Us Girls’ at the local library I had no idea that Joe Orton has written anything apart from his plays, of which I have seen the marvellous ‘Entertaining Mrs Sloane’, and his infamous diaries. I simply had to pick it up, seeing the quotes on the back cover comparing it to the likes of Nancy Mitford, E.F. Benson and Evelyn Waugh (all authors whose work I really admire, especially for their sardonic wit) made it irresistible.
‘Between Us Girls’ is the tale of the rise of Hollywood starlet Susan Hope from her London roots in the swinging sixties via Soho review bars and the white slave trade in Mexico. With a premise like that and Joe Orton writing I can promise you that you’re in for a real treat. Susan Hope is an innocent little soul from the start, all she wants is simple, and she wants to become one of the most famous actresses in the entire world, which she assumes should be really easy, no? Well no, it’s not easy and so we follow her on her journey her naivety making us laugh all the more along the way.
In fact from the opening Orton quickly gives us a huge insight into the character whose diary entries we are reading. On the opening page Susan divulges that she has not only had the worst restyling of her hair ever by the dreadful Miss Fleur, but a book she has been waiting on for an age soon gets taken off her and read by her mother! How awful! Yes, Susan’s life is full of what appear to her to be life shattering dramas but to the normal average person are really just small blips, and very funny ones if you happen to be reading them. It could make Susan rather irritating to be such a dreamer with no idea of the real world but somehow Orton makes her endearing.
“The Divine Marquise, the novel I ordered, was in the book shop waiting for me this afternoon. I was just dying to read it, but mother snatched it off me directly I got in. It all seems so utterly depressing. I have made up my mind that I shall not allow mother to ruin this book for me. I won’t listen when she reads the interesting bits. Mother really is sickening. My God! How awful everything is. No romance – no real romance, I mean. I’d give seven years of my life to be swept off my feet by a handsome stranger – like Pompadour in The Divine Marquise.”
Susan also provides the perfect set of eyes in which the more knowing reader can make more observations than her naïve head could ever do. You will know just what might be coming when she goes to a bar owners house for some ‘light supper’ yet she has no idea, or when she signs two years of her life away for a ‘dancing show in Mexico’ because its that much nearer to Hollywood. I also think this adds a dark streak to the book, I wonder if Orton used this so we could be shown just how seedy the scenes were in which Susan found herself and how young naïve girls could be taken for an absolute ride because they knew nothing but wanted everything? It adds an edge to what initially appears to be a light frothy read but actually is much more subversive than you think.
A book that will: indeed be perfect if you love Mitford and Waugh for it has their comedy and their slyness. 8/10
I have since found out that there are several other Orton novels and I of course want to read them all now too, have any of you already? I also very much want to finally read the Orton Diaries which have been sat on my TBR for months and months. The more I watch and read or Orton’s the more of a tragedy it seems that his life was taken from him at such an early age. But then that could be a story in itself couldn’t it?