PERSONALITY …… Andrew O’Hagan (Harcourt, 2003)




Scottish Island Fiction

Personality :

1. The set of emotional qualities, ways of behaving etc., that makes a person different from other people

2. A person of importance, prominence, renown, or notoriety, “a television Personality”

(from Merriam Webster online dictionary)


This is a fictional account of the rise and eventual fall of a child singing sensation in the 1970’s.The title of the book “personality” is both meaningful and appropriate. As this young girl becomes more of a “show biz personality” her own individual personality becomes absorbed by the expectations of the people around her. She is  surrounded by managers, talent scouts,  family, obsessive fans, and entertainers who all want to have a piece of her. She suffers clinical depression and anorexia nervosa (a condition that was still misunderstood in the 1970’s) and requires repeated hospitalizations.

At the center of this story is 13-year-old Maria Tambini—-“the little girl with the big voice”—- who, as this story opens, is already well-known, in her hometown, as a great talent. She is a 13-year-old Scottish/Italian girl who has spent her entire life in Rothesay, on the Isle of Bute in Scotland. Maria’s mother has ambitions for her only child  and when a talent scout arranges for her to appear on “Opportunity Knocks with Hughie Green” her family and the entire Island are overjoyed for “their girl”   (“Opportunity Knocks” was a real British tv show fronted by an oily character, Hughie Green — sound familiar Simon Cowell X Factor) The British public were crazy for her. Her story is told from the different perspectives of the people surrounding her; family, managers, friends, Hughie Green, and even her stalker fan. In one chapter we see the revealing letters written between Maria and her childhood best friend, Kalpana.  Kalpana’s letters talk of school, boys and other preteen girl stuff ( and she complains that Maria almost never writes back), but Maria doesn’t write about much more than her make-up routine.

Her own reputation overwhelms and undermines her. At 13, she is beginning to develop a woman’s body but she is under pressure to be THE LITTLE GIRL with the big voice.  She is way out of her depth—this is a girl who had never seen a traffic light until she was thirteen.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this fiction novel has to be based on the real-life story of Lena Zavaroni. Lena was a Scottish girl of Italian heritage raised in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute who became a singing sensation in the 1970’s. She was known as “the little girl with the big voice”.  I am Canadian and I have to admit that I was not very familiar with her story until I researched it a little after reading this book. My understanding is that she was huge in Britain. I went on you-tube where I was able to catch some of her performances and wow—she could really belt out a tune. (Think Judy Garland, Ethel Merman and Barbra Streisand) On you-tube I saw a performance where she appeared on “THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON” and I swear I saw that episode forty years ago. I would have been about fifteen and I sometimes stayed up late to watch Johnny—but there was something familiar–like it was there in the back closet of my mind. (Of course sometimes I can’t remember yesterday so maybe I am dreaming this) Lena’s story has a sad ending. When she was thirty- five she begged doctors to perform brain surgery to alleviate the symptoms of her depression. She died of pneumonia a few weeks later. She was said to be seventy pounds at the time of her death. There was an inquest

This is beginning to be a familiar story “child star unable to cope with life as an adult”  This novel provides possible insight.



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Filed under book review, book reviews, General fiction, Scottish Island Fiction

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