Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Sophie Dahl and those pesky gene-jeanies

Novelist and supermodel Sophie Dahl – or Dahling as some bitches like Arcati have a habit of saying – is all over the place right now with the release of her first full-length work of fiction, Playing with the Grown-ups. Whereas most writers must face the cruel fate of oblivion, Dahl’s more rarefied excruciation is the reverse of the common experience, hereditary celebrity and its remorseless trivialisation of her person and work.

It was the Indy editor Simon Kelner who encapsulated Sophie’s predicament with inadvertent and cruel efficiency in his GQ December Food column, following his delicious lunch with her (she had the smoked salmon and Jerusalem artichokes). He wrote: “For her career as a writer, the genes look good. As I watched her stride across the Aldwych after lunch, I thought the jeans don’t seem too bad either.”

Ah, yes the genes and the jeans. Never mind about the book! Every profile and interview rehearses the genealogy: Sophie’s mother is Tessa, the daughter of Roald and actress Patricia Neal; and her father is Julian Holloway, son of actor Stanley Holloway. Not just all this but Sophie was the inspiration for the Sophie character in Roald’s The BFG! Poor Sophie! It’s not her fault that she sounds like a walking ad for a benign form of Eugenics – popular in some areas of the media, broadsheets and glossy mags especially.

Her natal stardom leads to a kind of social determinism: her Wikipedia entry announces simply that she was “discovered by Isabella Blow on a London street at the age of 18.” Oh, OK. Just like that. Like you do. Crisp abbreviation lends a Mosaic quality to the tale; it was meant to be. It was ordained by ongoing, ambient success.

Then there are the jeans, the other thread – so to speak – of Sophie’s story (ie, the other big excuse not to discuss her fiction) which takes us back to her supermodel days – she did the Vogue cover for November, by the way – and at some point lately pint-sized jazz star Jamie Cullum gets a name-check (see pics of little man and tall woman). The lines of glittery detail are snorted up with tremendous relish – tragically to be repeated for Sophie’s entire life and in her obits - and, oh, she’s written a book!

To add to the distraction is the fact that she’s represented in the UK by that literary party Zelig, Ed Victor, the big agent man ever in search of the next buzz, buzz, buzz. You think: Yes, I see the sparkle, I can smell the sparklers' fume; yes, I concede the superior genes and jeans, but can any literary talent withstand such irrelevant heft? Wouldn’t even a very serious talent be compromised by sooooooooooo much trivia? Discuss.

Of course what one must do is read Sophie’s book to separate the genes from the jeans. Actually, I can’t be bothered because the hype puts me off. I did however read a short extract from Playing with the Grown-ups on Bloomsbury’s website: this establishes that she can write. But if I didn’t know it was the work of Sophie Dahl, would I be bothered? Would any publisher/journalist really be bothered? The question is the answer.

But this shouldn’t be read as a put-down of Sophie's writing talent – even “smart end of average” is a compliment on this site. If she wants to discover whether she can be taken seriously as a writer, my unsolicited advice to her is this: Dump star-fucking Ed, dump the family history (make all interviews contingent on no mention of Roald, Pat, Tessa, Jamie et al), refuse any picture poses and ban all model illustrations and insist that 90% of the interview is just about the work in hand. Only then will you know whether it’s your book, your genes or your jeans that’s the real point of interest.

To read the extract from Sophie's novel, click here.

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