Rock and Roll hang-ups: Lola Bensky

It can be difficult reading a book after you’ve heard mixed opinions of it, and it’s even harder writing a review on it. The thoughts flying around about Lily Brett’s Lola Bensky (Penguin) have been polarised, some glowing and other’s near-loathing.

I tried to read it with an open mind and at the finished, stopped to consider my own thoughts on this interesting book. At the risk of sitting on the fence, my feelings about this book were mixed. I was, to be fair, both aggravated and endeared.

Lola BenskyLola Bensky is, not surprisingly, all about Lola – a young woman living a seemingly charmed rock and roll life. The company she keeps is enviable, but it quickly becomes clear that as well as charm, Lola’s life is filled to the brim with angst, self loathing and baggage…

Lola spends her days planning diets and interviewing rock stars. In London, Mick Jagger makes her a cup of tea, Jimi Hendrix (possibly) propositions her and Cher borrows her false eyelashes. At the Monterey International Pop Festival, Lola props up Brian Jones and talks to Janis Joplin about sex. In Los Angeles, she discusses being overweight with Mama Cass and tries to pluck up the courage to ask Cher to return those false eyelashes.

Lola has an irrepressible curiosity, but she begins to wonder whether the questions she asks these extraordinary young musicians are really a substitute for questions about her parents’ calamitous past that can’t be asked or answered. As Lola moves on through marriage, motherhood, psychoanalysis and a close relationship with an unexpected pair of detectives, she discovers the question of what it means to be human is the hardest one for anyone – including herself – to answer.

I was excited about this book, looking forward to another rock and roll story (perhaps not unlike this book or this story) and I was very much looking forward to reading about a complicated female rock journalist working in the iconic sixties music scene.

I’ll admit, about a chapter into the book I was a little disappointed. As Lola had words with Jimi Hendrix, Mike Jagger and Brian Jones I became increasingly irritated – these well-known and much-loved rock icons seemed cliched, paper-thin and the whole scene, a little ‘name-droppy.’

But still, there was something that grabbed me. Lola was miserable, conflicted. During interviews, while most people would be star-stuck and in the moment, Lola was distracted by a low-key, matter-of-fact self loathing , and I felt sorry for her…

“Jimi Hendrix removed the brightly-coloured patterned silk scarf that was tied around his neck. ‘Are you comfortable?’ he said to Lola Bensky, in a soft, improbably polite voice. ‘Oh, yes,’ she said, looking at him and trying to separate her thighs.

She thought that Jimi Hendrix had probably never had to go on a diet. She thought he was probably naturally lean. she had never been lean. She had a photograph of herself in the displaced person’s camp, in Germany, where she was born. She was three months old in the photograph. And she was chubby. How could a baby born in a DP camp be chubby? Lola was sure that not many of the camp’s other inmates, mostly Jews who had survived Nazi death camps, were chubby.”

Don’t get me wrong, I still wanted to slap her, shake her out of her inherited survivors guilt and dietary ridiculousness, but I couldn’t deny the fact that I felt sorry for her. Her neurosis had been unfairly foisted upon her and she seemed isolated, lonely and resigned to it all.

She clearly used her trade to escape…

“Lola loved words. They were so reliable. Verbs and pronouns didn’t suddenly decide they wouldn’t speak to each other. Sentences stayed stable. Phrases and clauses didn’t develop dislikes or become erratic. Any shocking revelations between vowels and consonants were mostly in Lola’s control.”

…even though her thoughts were never very far away from catastrophe.

I found myself repeatedly wondering how much of the writer and her experiences were embedded in this story. I’m going to have to do some more research on this, I was left wondering – was it actually Lily Brett’s false eyelashes that ended up in Cher’s collection?

Brett’s Lola Bensky is an interesting novel. I might not have loved everything about it, but Lola is an intriguing character. Lola’s Melbourne is beautifully painted, and it’s fun to suspend disbelief and imagine what it might have been like have a casual conversation with Jim Morrison or to know Linda before she became Mrs. Paul McCartney.

Tell me, do you think you have to love all of a book to enjoy it?

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