Goddess by Anthony Summers review

Hi everyone! As some people might remember, earlier this year I went on a bit of a Marilyn Monroe binge. I read both Blonde and Marilyn and Me in fairly quick succession, and it seems I still I can’t get enough of the actress. Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, unlike the two previously mentioned works, is non-fiction and Summers discusses her life from her dysfunctional childhood to her death and the conspiracies surrounding it. It is obvious that Blonde takes inspiration from Summers’ book, and it was interesting comparing the two.

Summers has won the Gold Dagger for crime non-fiction twice, and has also written books on Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover. Clearly then he is interested in crime, as if that wasn’t already apparent when reading Goddess. Monroe’s affair with the Kennedys, as well as her death in 1962 and the various theories floating around it, take up nearly half of the book. Summers interviews witnesses, cross-examines statements, even gathers previously unseen documents for the book. His meticulous research, plus an obvious passion for his subject, makes the book compulsively readable, and I often caught myself devouring pages into the wee hours of the morning. He breaks down the events of that fateful day so minutely it is hard to argue with his conclusions at the end (despite his use of some questionable witnesses and his printing of an autopsy photo which seemed tasteless).

At times however, I wondered if the subject he was passionate about was ‘the death of Marilyn Monroe’ rather than Monroe herself. Whilst Summers has obviously researched her life and career, it doesn’t have the same energy and liveliness as later chapters. He seems to write about her purely so he can get to her death and discuss that, with a mere nod at her work and turbulent life. An example is the section about The Misfits. This was Monroe’s last completed film, and during the filming her third marriage to Arthur Miller was falling apart. Yet in Goddess it is only discussed for 9 pages, which seems slight given what was happening on set – namely the marriage breakdown and Monroe being blamed for production halting. I felt more information could have been added to these segments, giving the reader a much fuller picture of the actress.

That isn’t to say Goddess isn’t enjoyable. It really is, and Summers’ writing style makes the book very accessible – especially when Monroe becomes entwined with political figures and the mafia. Summers breaks down the sometimes confusing web so anyone with no knowledge at all of the Kennedys and the mob can understand it. Also, when Summers hits his stride in the later chapters it is clear the awards are well deserved, the book reads like a tight, well-crafted thriller. Yet I keep coming back to a quote from Monroe herself, from a telegram to Robert Kennedy. In it she mentions ‘earth bound stars’ and concludes: ‘After all, all we demanded was our right to twinkle’. I feel focussing more on her life and career, rather than primarily on her death, might be a better way to fulfil that demand.

Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe was published by Orion Books and you can find more information here.

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