by Alastair Campbell (Canada, Hutchison; $39, UK, Hutchison; £18.99)
Available 4 February 2010
Steve Watkins, logistician, is on the verge of closing a mega-deal at work and on the verge of becoming a father. His childhood friend, now international superstar Maya, believes she is at a crossroads professionally. Meanwhile, Steve thinks it is her marriage to TV presenter Dan Chivers which requires reassessment.
These are the elements that create the perfect storm making Alastair Campbell's Maya quite the pageturner. Steve who, having only seen Maya episodically since her marriage, allows his lifelong, yet unavowed, obsession with Maya to finally slip into full blown pathology as he gains re-entry into her life. One intrusive step leads to another and Steve loses the ability to connect the mendacity and menace of his actions to his intentions which he never doubts for a moment.
The disconnect in Steve is blatant early on and this fraught relationship Campbell sets up between the narrator and the reader contributes to the book's success. Steve's path though inevitable remains suspenseful. Steve does it all for Maya, a character who couldn't possibly be as perfect as he sees her. The characterisation of Maya is nuanced to the end and the ultimate moral judgement to be cast upon the heroine is left up to the reader.
Former Director of Communications in Tony Blair's government, Alastair Campbell is renowned for his antipathy toward the media. In turn, the media is constantly, overly sensitive and defensive to any criticism Campbell brings to bear. Critics are sure to see Maya as another blow directed at them but that could be missing the point. It is Maya and her entourage who initiate and pursue manipulation of the media. If Alastair Campbell would likely be forgiving of those who are under media scrutiny and acknowledge the need for stars to control their image, he leaves the reader space to dissent from that view.
The lack of clear heroes and villains in Maya is but one aspect which gives the book a unique place between mass market fare and literary fiction. Campbell may have just found a way to break into vast new strata of readership.