A captivating, thought-provoking, glamorous deep dive into the politics of celebrity culture, race and relationships, The View Was Exhausting doesn’t so much straddle the line between general fiction and romance as obliterate it.
At the center of the storm are two beautiful young people. British actor Whitman “Win” Tagore is a rising star “with deadpan delivery and a skill for stealing a scene even when she [is] the character with the least lines.” Talented, focused and sharp, Win earned her first major award nomination at an early age, yet this acknowledgment of her skill “triggered a new wave of suspicion about her ambition, her ruthlessness.” Win has learned to be cutthroat in managing her image since she doesn’t get the second chances or benefit of the doubt that her white counterparts do.
Youthful, not-quite-bad boy Leo Malinowski, in contrast, has enjoyed every benefit of the doubt. He’s the peripatetic playboy son of a supermodel and a multimillionaire hotel mogul whom the public loves to watch. But his life isn’t perfect. He’s got daddy issues, and while he harbors dreams of doing something substantive with his love of art, he never takes the leap: “Being reminded that there were people eager to see Leo succeed only seemed to make him more wary of starting.”
Initially, Win and Leo are a match made in publicity heaven. Win’s recently been through a bad breakup, and being with Leo transforms her into an object of envy rather than scorn. And being with Win helps Leo generate media attention for his father’s hotels.
The first week they spend together reveals combustible chemistry on camera, as well as a strong attraction and mutual understanding when the cameras are off. This temporary fake-dating scenario becomes a seven-year-long public relations scam that reactivates whenever one of them needs a career boost, though the lines between strategy and obsession are continually blurred.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Mikaella Clements and Onjuli Datta go behind the scenes of their jet-setting new romance.
Through Win and Leo’s complicated, inconvenient arrangement, married co-authors Mikaella Clements and Onjuli Datta explore the juxtaposition of privilege and marginalization that surrounds celebrities who sit outside of the dominant culture. The novel raises implicit questions about the pressure to maintain a palatable public persona, and why a talented, beautiful star would need to engage in a fake relationship. Clements and Datta get the racial, gender and political undercurrents just right, delivering a powerful and clear-eyed analysis of the toxic media culture that makes it hard for a woman of color to stay on the good side of public judgment. For a British woman of Indian heritage like Win, the margin of error is so narrow as to be nonexistent; having a desirable white partner like Leo makes her more palatable to white audiences. The race-inflected dynamics of Leo and Win’s relationship are also all too real. Leo’s misunderstanding of how Win’s identity shapes her experience is poignant and painful.
The one thing Clements and Datta don’t quite deliver is the romantic payoff. Though the authors effectively deploy many romance tropes, the beats of the novel’s ending may be unsettling or unsatisfying to some romance readers. Between the artifice, the time between encounters and Win’s protective shield, their romance holds more anger than intimacy, more turmoil than tenderness, and ultimately more pining than joy. Their happy ending is more of a brief glimpse than a full, rapturous swoon. Still, readers who want to sink into a Hollywood exposé will find much to admire in this high-wire celebrity romance.