Go Slow by Michael Owen

As a biography, Go Slow is an easy read that rarely gets bogged down or goes off on tangents. The author sticks to the chronological history with a focus on the recordings/films/tv roles rather than Julie London’s personal life. But the author is clearly a fan and as often happens, perhaps loses a bit of subjectivity in the process. There isn’t really anything negative to be found in the book about the singer/star and it feels like we are left on the outside looking in – never really getting any understanding of the singer/actress. The read was very disaffecting and felt more like an extensive Wikipedia entry than an in depth examination of someone who must have been more interesting than as presented here.

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The text flows smoothly and the author is very personable. From the sources, it appears Owen mostly talked with London’s confidants, relatives, and good friends. As such, nary an unkind word was to be found. I did find too many instances of hero worship: anything she touched he felt she turned to gold or it was a magnum opus (if that is possible). After while, anything she did was full of superlatives whether it succeeded or not (and if it didn’t, the failure was due to things outside of London’s control). There are hints only at the end of the book that drinking was a problem, she gambled excessively, and had a problematic relationship with her children – but that’s it. Maybe 1-2 sentences in the entire book hint at anything less than pleasant going on. Especially missing is her relationships with her two husbands, both of whom appeared to have a very complicated and very different relationship with London. The focus is clearly on London’s accolades and not London herself.

I do wish the author had taken the biography to a more in depth place. Julie was a private person and it is almost as if he is respecting that; but at the same time, why would I want to read a biography that reads more like a catalog of achievements? By the end of the book, I didn’t really feel like I knew her any better and so much of it was very forgettable because it was a bit bland. Nothing really scandalous or revealing, none of the problems with husbands or children, none of the reasons why she drank so much or why she felt the need to protect herself so much. There’s a lot of tell but little show -e.g., we’re told a lot that she was strong willed and stood up for herself, but never given any actual situations that demonstrated that trait. We have to take the author’s word for it.

Especially missing were details. A good example is the brief pages about the Emergency! years – there are no anecdotes from episodes, funny outtake examples, or anything about those 5 years other than that the paycheck was great and the cast liked to come over to her house. There’s no real insight by the biographer and that leaves the book feeling very flat. Most of the book is about her recordings and describing the songs on the many albums she recorded. We learn absolutely nothing about her children and her relationship with them.

So, although the book was clearly well researched, it has no flavor or personality. Somehow, Julie London comes off as being as boring as the book itself – and there’s nothing to remember her by other than the author’s glowing descriptions of her achievements. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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This entry was posted in ARC, biography, Book Reviews, non fiction, nonfiction. Bookmark the permalink.

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