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The Manipulator

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Hodder, London, 1968
(price: 5/-; 192 pages)
first published 1967

dedication: for Sean

The blurb on the back:

If anyone knew what was going on inside Nicholas Jebb's head, no one had the guts to disclose it. Jebb was The Manipulator, the man who dangled lives and emotions from the tips of his silky fingers. He knew everything, he knew everyone. He pried into the chinks in their armour, stabbed the flesh and twisted the knife. From the nymphomaniac starlets and the sex-crazed stars to the disillusioned writers and the world-weary directors — all came under Jebb's spell.
But there was one man in the cast who was immune to Jebb's plans. For him film festivals were as effete as sackcloth and ashes. And it was he who finally carried out the sentence that had been set the day that Jebb got too smart.

opening lines:
It rose up that morning as though it were making a last triumphal return to the stage. It rose with the knowledge that this particular country had worshipped it since time for men had begun. It rose up over the ocean, and the air took its heat and expanded and melted and rose as high as the sky.

Diane Cilento wrote, as far as I know, just two novels: this one and the later Hybrid (1970). She was better known as a screen actress and – if the truth be told – better known still as the wife of Sean Connery. (After their divorce in 1973, she subsequently married Anthony Shaffer, the writer of the screenplay for The Wicker Man, based on a story by David Pinner). By the time this novel came out, she’d already appeared in over a score of movies, including the female lead in The Full Treatment, and presumably was drawing extensively on her experience of the film industry for the characterizations and backdrop.

And it’s, well it’s alright, you know. Not a classic by any means, but no disgrace either. The protagonists are fairly obvious types, but they’re drawn convincingly enough, and occasionally there’s a genuine piece of insight into the nature of popular culture as modern myth, such as this reflection on the power of writers:

Writers believe what they want to believe. What they want to believe becomes fact, and that fact becomes the basis of their credo, and if they write about their credo boldly enough, and well enough, it finally becomes the ‘vox populi’. What begins as a dream, a figment of a wishful imagination – a stylish over-simplification of working-class attitudes or what-have-you – attains its own validity and truth through the hands and heads of talented men. (p.82)

The reviews quoted on the back are a little excessive – ‘No film star has stuck her tongue out so firmly at the hysteria and hypocrisy of the movie business’ claimed the Daily Sketch, while the Sunday Express insisted that ‘even if she were married to Goldfinger, I would urge you to read her book.’ Actually, if she had been married to Erno Goldfinger, this might have taken a different direction and concerned itself with megalomaniac architects, which would have been cool.