Let’s Pretend by Laura Vaughan – a thriller that glimpses into the world of celebrity life and its challenges

Let’s Pretend by Laura Vaughan

Pretending is what Lily Thane has been doing all her life – after all, it is another word for acting, which she has been trying to do since being the famous four year old in a cult Christmas film. Now, despite being part of a theatrical family and her determined mother – the “Momanger”, she is struggling. She is good at what she does, being a perfected attractive blonde who is always auditioning for parts, but real success in being cast is eluding her. So when she meets an old friend from theatre school, the sort of famous Adam Harker, and a proposal is made of a sort of acting job with sweeteners is made, it seems reasonable to take it. Adam has secrets and a darkness that attract and repel her at the same time, but pretending to be in a celebrity romance at least raises her profile. If only she knew how deep she must plunge – and how it will feature death…

This is a thriller set in the celebrity world behind the red rope, where things can be safe and separate, but also be a pressure cooker of emotion and varied desires. It certainly looks at what seems to be the reality of life in Britain, when success as an actor is a matter of connections and good fortune as much as talent. Laura Vaughan has created a character in Lily Thane that has  a family that is known in theatrical circles, even if it’s not for the sort of lightweight roles that she is currently linked to in her efforts. She is shown as having a lingering element of fame as a child actor, but that seems a long time ago as she is shown as having her nose fixed, watching her weight, guarding her image. The other characters are also complex creations, with their awareness of social media, and in the case of Nina, celebrity gossip, as a force in their success or failure. Not being an expert in the field, I can only say that this element of the book is certainly convincing, and Vaughan never lets her research get in the way of the strong narrative. The character of Adam is certainly as contradictory and unstable as a nearly successful actor would need to be to survive such a challenging environment with his big secret. In a way, Vaughan has created a special world which transcends geographical boundaries as she establishes a world where the super rich and the created celebrity images overlap, guarded by an impressive range of managers, agents and PR experts. The settings also vary from hotels through hideaways to a modernist house with many secrets and distinguishing features in its lack of comforts. This is a complex book which is genuinely enthralling as Lily must try to survive, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

Adam’s need for a public companion is not an easy thing for Lily to cope with, given that he is a professional charmer and even in his worst moments maintains the sort of handsome aura that has given him some success in the past to the point of some cult status. Lily’s presence by his side is to confirm his image of all action hero with a hint of danger. It is only when Lily gets close that she realises his dark side may be dangerous not only to him, but those around him. Her motivations throughout are deliberately vague – this is a thriller which twists and turns around the central idea of a fake romance with real impact. It is a very contemporary story that I found fascinating, and I recommend it as an exciting read.    

The Favour by Laura Vaughan – A young woman who wants to belong.

The Favour by Laura Vaughan

Ada Howell has expectations from life. She doesn’t want to just fit in, she wants to go back to where she was. At thirteen she lost her stepfather, and his family home disappeared from her life. Garreg Las is a country house in Carmarthenshire, built in 1807, a solid home for members of the gentry. Ada feels that she was exiled from there when her mother sold up to buy a new home, a new way of life in London. She loved the sounds, the atmosphere of the house and garden, a sense of place she cannot find anywhere else. When she sees the chance to join a gap year tour at the age of eighteen she is keen to try and rejoin the world of the landed and comfortably wealthy, young people who can afford a tour of eight weeks in Italy with privileged access to the choicest sites. Called “Dilettanti Discoveries”, the promise of an expensive introduction to art and the opportunity to make “lifelong friends” is too tempting; a gift from an eccentric godmother and hard work makes it possible with care, and Ada finds herself in Venice.

This book is a stylishly written novel narrated by its lead character, a young woman who intends to grasp at the chances offered by close proximity to the rich and confident. It has a terrific sense of place, whether that be the half – remembered house of childhood, the basement of a head office in Holborn, or the cramped streets of Venice. Parts of it are dream like, peopled by glamorous souls who seem to exist outside a real life of savings and budgets, while other parts are tinged with nightmare, when the worst happens. I found it an intense book, and was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.  

The most significant part of the book in some ways is the eight week tour of the art treasures of Venice, Florence and Rome. Not that the classical and religious inspired paintings, frescos and statues are what Ada spends most of her time studying; her observations are of the other people in the group. There are the young men, assured of their place in the world, with in jokes and a common background of expensive education. Some are more affable than others, some play pointless pranks and make innuendo laden comments, one or two are a little hostile. Oliver is the latter, disparaging of a young woman who seems merely to watch, perhaps judging. Lorcan is more affable, with a complicated if wealthy background, he does not feel threatened. A tutor, Nate, is a vague connection, but Ada has her reasons to be suspicious of him. The other girls a mixed bunch; ranging from the giggly, to the hopeful Petra, the American Mallory Kaplan with her questions, to the distant Annabelle, with her connection to Lorcan. As the tour proceeds, undercurrents of relationships develop and shift, building to an event that shakes up even the most self possessed, let alone those who seem more vulnerable. The effects of that event last beyond the end of the tour, and as Ada makes the most of opportunities, happiness still seems as elusive as dreams of a place to which she cannot return.

This is a skillfully written book which moves and shifts in unexpected ways, as characters appear, make their contribution and then flit back into the shadows of Ada’s life. It brings to life the byways of Venice beyond the tourist sites, and also deals with a variety of human experience through the eyes of a watchful young woman. Not an easy book to pin down by genre, it has so many elements and strands within it, it offers an unusual story and view of contemporary life. I recommend it as an imaginative reading experience which offers real insight and observations of the need to belong.