Despite the title, most of this book is about the author's relationship with her father and doesn't even occur in the mansion. But Playground: A Child...moreDespite the title, most of this book is about the author's relationship with her father and doesn't even occur in the mansion. But Playground: A Childhood Lost Inside My Father's Malibu Home wouldn't sell as many books.
The author's father was Hugh Hefner's personal physician and best friend for decades. When her parents divorced she began spending time at the Playboy Mansion to see her father and eventually moved to her father's house, going to the mansion after school. Playground attempts to analyze the damage her father's attitude towards parenting--and her parents' way of using her as a weapon against one another--has done in her life.
The promised titillation is there: pre-teen drugs, wild parties, celebrities in compromising or embarrassing positions, teenage love affair with Hefner's girlfriend, mob hit-men, South American drug runners, and a parade of fashion and music that covers twenty-plus years of L.A. excess. But the book isn't as lurid as the cover copy suggests. Saginor uses the outrageous episodes to plot how she changed from angry at one parent to angry at another, from excited to scared, and from enthused to numb.
The story goes from tabloid to insight when Jennifer begins to drift off the trajectory her father is following. She implies that her father was getting more extreme (and in one part--while using injected drugs--he almost certainly was), but this coincides with Jennifer's late teens and we can also see her own maturation in the way she recognizes how out-of-touch her father is with the notion of consequences.
We've seen this sort of book before, of course, whether in celebrity tell-alls or Brett Easton Ellis-alike fiction. Saginor's version is interesting for the contrasts she provides. We see her life in the contexts of upper-class families, high school, her serious-minded and loving grandfather, her father's wild friends and their manipulative and dangerous world, and at the mansion, where fun is free-flowing and consequences are handled by each person individually as best they can.
The mansion serves as a neutral ground for putting her life with her family into relief. She has friends there (some celebrities, playmates, and staff); she can retreat there to reflect; and no one (at least, no one mentioned in the book) pressures or threatens her there. Towards the end, she comments that Hugh Hefner is the one person who allowed her to be a child. Using the mansion this way is effective, especially as her father's household gets more out of touch with reality and the mansion seems like a safe refuge for normalcy.
The writing is passable, although there are a number of sudden jumps in tone or place that made me re-read sections to follow them. I'm not fond of the present tense artifice, but it isn't too bad here. What Saginor does very, very well, though, is to ground the story in a sense of time. People wear clothes that evoke a particular moment in the 80's, they listen to music in one chapter that will be gone in the next, and the fashion designers and labels, as well as the movie or star who popularized a particular look, will revivify the moment for anyone who was alive and in America at the time.
This is a really quick read and it's worth it if you're interested in the genre.(less)
Given the subject matter--an autobiography of an SAS soldier up to Desert Storm--you would expect one of two things: a) insightful commentary about th...moreGiven the subject matter--an autobiography of an SAS soldier up to Desert Storm--you would expect one of two things: a) insightful commentary about the SAS, its methods, its role in the world, and it's interrelationship with Thatcherian policies, or b) a great escapist thriller with lots of action, whether interpersonal or military.
Given the lurid cover Bantam/Dell gave the mass market edition ("The explosive true story..." "The controversial book the British government tried to suppress!" "Dares to expose some of their highly confidential codes and rules--including the one that sanctions murder"), you would expect the latter.
Oddly, you'd be wrong on both counts. There is really only one in-depth military operation in the book. All the rest are glossed over, although training runs are discussed. Much of the covered time is similarly glossed-over. Which year a section occurs in is rarely revealed, even, and some back-and-forth is played with sequence.
Probably much to the publicist's dismay, Andy McNab doesn't seem to have wanted to write a thriller. The major theme of the book is his string of failed marriages; we're never really let into the marriages to see them, but that seems appropriate since his inattention to his wives and the amount of fun he was having at work was the cause of the first three failed relationships. The cost to his personal life is visible in every section, and he points out that many other soldiers have similar problems (as do emergency response professions), but he also points out successful relationships among his friends.
McNab also takes us to the edge of analysis on political and social issues of military action, specifically North Ireland in the 70s, Beirut in the 80s, and British military drug interdiction in South America. But each time, he pulls away from actually giving an opinion. He reports other peoples' opinions and demonstrates that "doing his job" is his virtue. Laudable, but the book leaves you feeling that he has more to say.
It's the same with his family situation. Even when he realizes how he's sabotaging his marriages he only knew how to apologize for it; the modern McNab can call himself a dickhead back then but he doesn't say what he would do now or what someone else could do in the same situation. The line, when he's just come back from overseas after missing the birth of his daughter, that he was so enchanted and so excited and so amazed and that he would only see her for a total of 12 weeks over the next two years is chilling, but I don't believe McNab means that to say "don't join the army."
This is a fun read if you like military procedurals. It's certainly light enough reading. It could have been really great, and I expect McNab had it in him to say something meaningful in this book. I can imagine many reasons why he might have refrained, but I wish he hadn't.(less)