Book Review: Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher

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This is the second in my series of reverse reviews, reading books I’ve seen and enjoyed the movie adaptations of.

Postcard from the Edge is the story of Suzanne Vale, a Los Angeles-based actress struggling with drug addiction and a so-so career. When we meet her, it’s day one of her thirty day stay in rehab and she’s keeping a diary at the suggestion of one of her counsellors. Through Suzanne’s diary, we also meet the other people she’s undertaking rehab with at the same time and none of them are all that important to the overall story.

On day fifteen, Suzanne’s diary entries start being interspersed with the thoughts of Alex, who doesn’t know it yet but on day sixteen will be admitted to the same rehab facility. His sections are really hard to read – they made my brain hurt because I felt compelled to read them fast and I had a sense of the downward drug spiral he was on, especially when he left the facility without finishing his rehab to go on a massive bender.

After Suzanne leaves rehab, we leave Alex (thank goodness, I couldn’t have taken much more) and are thrown head first into twenty-six pages of dialogue – literally just dialogue. We aren’t told who’s speaking but it seems as though they’re on a date and the only attribution is “he said” and “she said” before it moves into “she” at a therapy session talking to her therapist, then “he” at a therapy session talking to his therapist, then the two of them on another date.

From this point the novel returns to a more standard narrative form as Suzanne goes to work on her first film since being released from rehab. This is where the majority of the story that someone who has seen the film will recognise it has come from. Then Suzanne runs some errands and goes to a party that leaves her in a major depressive funk. Then she spends nine days in bed. Then she accompanies her friend Lucy to an appearance on a late night talk show where she meets Jesse in the green room, who is an author whose book has been optioned and is being turned into a movie. And that’s pretty much it.

This is not a plot driven novel, it’s very much a character piece and it’s very much a novel of the eighties – existential angst of the privileged and drugs abound. For fans of the movie, it is almost unrecognisable. When Carrie Fisher wrote the script for the film, she was very selective in what she took from the novel (I’d estimate less than 20%). The movie is better for it because while I give the movie 5 stars, I can only give the book 3 stars and I wonder if I would have given it 2 stars if I hadn’t seen or wasn’t so fond of the movie. I applaud Fisher’s ability to recognise the limitations of her novel and turn it into the film that the novel should have been.

This book is a contradiction because it is easy to read and hard to read at the same time. I read it over the course of two days but the way Alex’s thoughts and the dialogue only section were written was really challenging so I pushed through them, wanting them to be finished.

I’m torn over whether I want to read any more of Carrie Fisher’s work based on this effort. I’ll probably spend a few months or more likely a few years making that decision. In the meantime, I can watch the movie (again and again and again).

3 stars

*First published on Goodreads 17 January 2016

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