Title: Loathing Lola
Author: William Kostakis
Source: Library copy
Read: 25th-26th June 2011
First Published: 2008
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
“'No, Katie. I'm not marketing myself as the girl whose boyfriend died.'
'Okay, okay, fresh wounds, I understand' she says, raising both hands placatingly. 'If it's too soon, it's too soon. Now, how do you feel about exploiting being abandoned by your father?'”
Shortly after losing her boyfriend of four months to a drink-driving accident, Courtney is offered the chance to become Australia's latest reality television sensation, courtesy of a starring role on new show, “Real Teens”. Before long, she is being shadowed by a camera crew throughout most of her day and learning that keeping things to yourself can be difficult when the people around you are willing to sell your secrets for a share of your fame. But is there more at stake than Courtney's grief being made public? How far will her production company go to win good ratings?
Loathing Lola is based on a fun premise. With reality television constituting so much of modern day programming, the idea of following one of the people behind the televised faces is an interesting one. Kostakis encourages his readers to question the veracity of the 'reality' presented by such shows, both in terms of the media's manipulation of both celebrity and audience and in terms of the type of people and behaviour they promote as being entertaining and desirable.
It's a good idea and an excellent moral but, unfortunately, I believe it is overshadowed and even contradicted by the text itself. Kostakis's characters are just as stereotypical and anti-feminist as those presented by television programs such as 'Big Brother'. His protagonist is fine – if rather dull – but the women around her are highly problematic.
Katie, Courtney's 'second-best friend' (which is weird in itself – who uses a term like that at 16?) is hilariously promiscuous. She thinks nothing of doing laps of the (Catholic!) school oval in her underwear. Courtney and Tim, Katie's twin brother, joke about her having slept with entire sporting teams, because apparently that's not revolting, boys-locker-room behaviour and actually just how good friends and family talk about their loved ones. It should come as no surprise that Katie is not the kind of friend a girl can trust, because she's been represented as stereotypically hedonistic from the beginning.
Chloe is a bad person. You know this because she's overweight. Kostakis doesn't allow his readers to forget this important detail. It's mentioned almost every time that Chloe is.
Lola, Courtney's step-mother, is also a bad person. This is obvious from the moment she's introduced, because she has poor dress sense.
'Think animal prints, clashing colours, turquoise eye shadow and plastic carrot-shaped earrings. She has her permed peroxide blonde hair frizzing freely. It's a colour she claims is natural, not perhaps as natural as the brown of her two-inch long regrowth, but natural enough.'
Immediately, the reader is given an image of someone from a certain socio-economic background. We know she's not from a wealthy background, we know she's probably not well-educated and we know that she's not a woman presenting herself as a woman is supposed to present herself. What's more, she is openly sexual with her husband. Oh, and she's not thin enough either. Parts of her body 'jiggle'. God forbid.
Lucy McMahon? Needless to say, she also fits the pattern.
'Lucy's as thin, if not thinner than her cardboard cut-out pinned on the Writer's Wall. Now, there's scantily clad, then there's Lucily clad. Apparently, what she's wearing is called a top. I beg to differ. She has long, straightened, platinum-blonde hair and breasts she didn't get by starving herself and exercising. Her high-pitched I'm-a-ditz voice pierces the air.'
Poor Lucy has tried to make the grade, but it doesn't count, because it's artificial. Women in this book are inextricably tied to their appearances, with any deviation from natural perfection being linked to having a bad character.
Lazy portrayal of women aside, the book also seems to struggle to find a style and format. The first chapter is very different to read than the last, as though the book was written over an extended period of time and then never edited into a smooth whole and initially there are inserts such as brief character surveys and point form lists that disappear as the book goes on. It reads young and unrefined.
So many of my issues with this book were explained when I discovered that the author was only nineteen when it was published. Personally, I don't understand why this was published in its current form, without serious editing to remove the immaturity of both style and characterisation. It saddens me that a good publisher like Pan Macmillan put out a book that represents young and older women in this way, especially when packaged with a moral about the media revering drama, scandal and skin. This is a boy's view of women and girls, poorly hidden behind a female protagonist.
If you liked this book, you might also enjoy:
Dress Rehearsal, by Zoe Thurner
Love Lessons, by Jacqueline Wilson
Withering Tights, by Louise Rennison