Based on the bestselling novel by Joyce Carol Oates, the movie reimagines the life of the American singer, actor and model – from her volatile childhood through to her rise to stardom and romantic entanglements with notable figures including President John F Kennedy and the playwright Arthur Miller.
The long-awaited film adaptation of Oates’ fictionalised Monroe has been in the works since 2014. The acclaimed author has already given it her seal of approval while film critics have praised the platinum transformed Ana de Armas in the lead role. The movie also features a stellar supporting cast, from Adrien Brody playing Miller to Bobby Cannavale taking on the role of the basketball player Joe DiMaggio and Caspar Phillipson of Jackie-fame reprising the role of JFK.
But just how much of Oates’ Blonde is grounded in reality? The acclaimed writer has always insisted that the weighty 700-page book is a work of fiction and it sees her playing with, rearranging, and inventing details of Monroe’s life.
Critics have highlighted that the fictionalised portrayal serves as an emblem of twentieth-century American society, tackling themes of feminism, religion, politics and celebrity culture. Echoing this, Oates’ once said in one interview she thought of Monroe as her Moby Dick – using the singer’s tragic story arc to tell a story about America.
If you want to delve deeper before seeing it on the big or small screen, here’s everything you need to know about Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde.
Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates, published by Fourth Estate: £10.99 Waterstones.com
Published in 2000, the thoroughly researched, yet mostly imagined novel, tells the story of Monroe from childhood to her meteoric success and through to her death that’s shrouded in controversy.
Oates structures the novel around three contrasting versions of Monroe, all of which explore different female personas in 20th-century America. The first is Norma Jeane Baker, the illegitimate and wholesome child who grew up in an orphanage and multiple foster homes after her mother is declared mad.
The second is Marilyn Monroe, the woman who changed her name and became a pinup, sex symbol and movie star. Subject to misogynism and exploited by Hollywood, Oates draws on pop culture myths and narrates a succession of ill-fated romances, from lovers to husbands. The third persona is the pure blonde woman, which Oates uses to explore the worshipped idea of money, class and beauty.
The moving portrait of Monroe is said to be one of Oates’ best books and one of her longest works of fiction. And as a reimagined portrayal, some of the high-profile figures in the actor’s life remain elusive – such as her husbands Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, who are referred to as the ex-athlete and the playwright respectively. Many of the conspiracy theories surrounding Monroe are also touched on, including the myth that Robert F Kennedy and President JFK were involved in her death.
Whether you want to read the book before the movie or want to delve deeper into the story after seeing it on screen, Joyce Carol Oates’ novel is a timely addition to your reading pile.
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