Return of the schlockbusters

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 October, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 October, 1994, 12:00am

Hollywood Kids by Jackie Collins Simon & Schuster $250 Swan by Naomi Campbell Heinemann $220 COMBINE the current craze for dysfunctional families with the post-Beverly Hills 90210 crowd and you'll catch the drift of Jackie Collins latest blockbuster, a story of poor little twentysomething kids screwed up by their parents' fame, fortune and lack of attention.

Five young wastrels, all offspring of Hollywood icons or tycoons are in search of a meaning to life beyond drugs, casual sex and shopping.

Weave in a young star producer looking for a lead actress, a woman journalist doing stories on celebrities, a New York cop in Los Angeles to track down his missing child, a top Mafia gangster and glue it all together with a murderer out to revenge himself on those who put him in prison seven years ago and you have an engaging trawl through the off-screen world of Tinseltown.

The sex begins on Page four and doesn't let up throughout the 515 pages; there's even a topical sub-plot involving a Hollywood madam and her little black book of famous names. The concession to AIDS is there with constant talk of condoms but the characters don't always practice what they allude to, and, of course, despite the unsafe sex, nobody seems any the worse off.

Everyone indulges but behind the anything-goes exterior all are in search of old-fashioned true love which most eventually find.

While it won't win any literary prizes or round up recruits to the equality battle, the story is well told and nicely paced and the characters, despite being somewhat familiar, remain a notch above cliche.

Which is more than can be said for Swan. This book has the distinction of owning both an author, Naomi Campbell, the superstar model and a writer, Caroline Upcher. Yet it fails in each department that Collins' succeeds.

The flimsy plot is built around the search for a model to replace a supermodel who is backing out of her contract with a major Japanese firm. Meanwhile the supermodel has family problems and a menacing caller constantly on the line.

The world painted is glossy and flat. The connections between characters are too tenuous, as they fly in from Milan and out from New York, the story development is nonsensical and little of interest is revealed about the modelling business.

Confusingly there are two first person narrators, the white supermodel, Swan, and a rising black model and also huge chunks in the third person. Equally bizarre is how Naomi Campbell keeps getting a mention. While Campbell, in her role as 'author', was obviously keen that the problems of racism in modelling be given a platform, the polemic dropped into the story at various points sits uncomfortably with the lightweight words around it.

There is no other attempt to examine the beauty syndrome in which women aspire to a job that constantly belittles them, judging only their bodies (and even these 'beautiful' women are subject to devastating criticism each time they go for a trial) and over which most will never have any control (the clients are all-powerful).

Despite this, Swan has garnered reviews, public attention and probably sales that elude many better works. Having a famous 'author' for promotion and an unknown writer to do the work is undoubtedly good marketing. As literature, in this case, it is a disaster.