Review: Star Scarred, Perihan Mağden
by Luke Frostick
“You’re right when you say it is better to trust the beautiful.”
Somewhere on the coast of the Marmara, far from the chaos of Istanbul, is the house of famed singer Star. Sun, after escaping from her tyrannical grandmother, is secretly living in the house. She survives by sleeping in Star’s massive wardrobe, eating lunch in the kitchen and sunbathing by the pool; all safe in the knowledge that due to the constant comings and goings of Stars’ household, everybody assumes she is supposed to be there. Close to her beloved Star, Sun is happy.
The plot of Perihan Mağden’s book follows Sun as she works her way into the household getting closer and closer to the one at the centre of it all, Star.
As a big genre fiction reader, it is no insult when I say that Star Scared feels very much like fantasy. It has the same sense of wonder, heightened reality and looming danger. Instead of dragons, magic and destiny powering the plot, it has fame, wealth and powerful cocktails of champagne and prescription drugs. It is a world where the backbiting and infighting between the housekeepers, agents lawyers and the others drawn to Star are every bit as savage as in A Song of Ice and Fire.
As I read Star Scared, the fantasy and science fiction thoughts kept popping up. It reminded me of J. G. Ballard, although it never gets as demented or dark as any of his books. The one I really kept coming back to was Gormenghast in that Sun, all of Star’s hangers-on, and Star herself, are all caught up in a baffling, claustrophobic hierarchy. Even the house itself, built by different architects, doesn't seem completely logical.
As a little aside, I have spent a little time, at one point or another, in the houses of the famous and the super rich of Istanbul and, although Mağden exaggerates for the story, the environment in that household does feel a little feudal and odd for somebody on the outside looking in. Mağden’s journalistic eye captures these close little worlds very well.
Sun is the reader’s entry into this world and like Steerpike she must scheme and lie to stay in Star’s orbit (I’m sorry there had to be one astronomy joke in here somewhere). Tension throughout the book is effectively built with a cyclical dynamic. The first is the question of whether Sun’s lies will unravel and she will be thrown out of Star’s house. The second is that as with every rival Sun overcomes the closer she is drawn to star and the closer she gets the more dangerous Star appears.
Star Scared holds an interesting in the world of Turkish translated literature. I say this because the works that make it into translation are often books ‘about Turkey,’ in some way with a lot of either nostalgia for Istanbul’s past, or dire warning about Orwellian futures. Although given the country’s direction it is clear why these books are popular, Mağden doesn't do either of these. It is a book that reflects the modern reality of Turkey without focusing solely on the political.
It’s not a perfect book. Towards the end some aspects become a little repetitive. The character Sun follows a quite standard character arch and it made the ending predictable. Moreover, the character of Star, who really drives the plot, doesn't develop in any meaningful way (though that might have been the point). Star starts the book as a force of nature though as the book moves on we learn more about her and see the cracks in her perfect veneer she still remains a bit two dimensional.
But for everything that didn't quite work in this book there is plenty to like. In particular, the way that Mağden approaches the topic of celebrity, as neither a piece gushing sycophancy, a sleazy tabloid style book, or a moralisation on the evils of wealth and fame, but also a bit of all, is nicely balanced. A book like this could be seen as quite disposable but Star Scared is a good story that is fast enough and smart enough to be an enjoyable read.