Nonfiction author and blogger Clare Pooley has created her first fiction debut – and it’s filled with all the truth, hope and joy we could ever need.
‘Everyone lies about their lives. What would happen if you shared the truth instead?’
Almost octagenarian artist Julian Jessop is feeling rather sorry for himself. Once adored by celebrities and fans, age has made him invisible. His cottage is empty without his beloved wife Mary, who died fifteen years ago. Days now pass without human interaction and he feels disconnected. Even his reflection sneaks up on him. So he decides to speak his truth about his Life in a physically unassuming, pale-green exercise book which he labels The Authenticity Project. Leaving the book carefully on a table in Monica’s Cafe (where, he rejoices, tea is served in china cups) he urges the reader to take their turn and share their truth. Julian invites an answer to the question, “What happens next is up to you?“
‘How well do you know the people who live near you? How well do they know you?’
Each reader that finds The Authenticity Project is drawn in by the astonishing stories within its pages. Written in multiple narrative, with each change of handwriting comes another truth, an offloading of someone’s inner turmoil. Julian’s hope that others will share their story come to be realised when the book travels to Thailand and finds its way back, affecting the lives of all who come to hold it. How will each be changed by The Authenticity Project? Will Health and Safety conscious, risk averse Monica throw caution to the wind and eat Mexican churros from a street cart? Is the perfect Life of Mum-of-one and social media sensation Alice exactly as she portrays it through an Instagram square? Can unruly Hazard break his addictions and find peace in his own skin? And will happy-go-lucky Australian traveller Riley find a place to settle and share his own inner secrets?
Indeed, with meet-ups taking place next to the ornate gravestones in Brompton Cemetery, a key location in the book, we start to ponder the many secrets our ancestors have taken with them? Do any of us know the real truth, about each other and about ourselves too?
‘Sometimes, there is nothing lonelier than a room full of people.’
Julian’s wish to form invisible connections plays out in several scenarios as the characters meet and spend time together. Despite their differences, they realise that to co-exist as a “motley, but rather cool, group of people”, compromise and balance is necessary. The book’s tour de force Betty Wu attests that yin and yang is essential: “If you use hardness to resist force then both sides will break.”
Through a lighthearted, uplifting tale the author cleverly asks us to consider some of our perceived societal norms. What pressures lie upon women in society? How do we treat our elders? Why do we keep secrets at all? To protect the people we love? Save ourselves from an embarrassing fate? Or do we tell people what we believe they want to hear? With this in mind, do we really need human connection to survive at all?
‘If you couldn’t wear Westwood on Christmas Day, then when could you?’
Julian paints a colourful picture of days gone by where his magnificence reigns. He recalls Monica’s Cafe as an Eel & Pie shop and later a VHS rental store. Vintage fashion is alive and well and provides a comic thread throughout. Julian’s eccentric sense of fashion and his outrageous 1960s stories of cavorting with fashion designers and music artistes are laugh out loud funny. And, of course, the best of it is that no one is ever sure whether his anecdotes are true, have evolved over time or ever existed at all!
‘Something had to change. Actually everything had to change.’
Not wanting to slip away without trace Julian found the truth process cathartic. But will he find his sense of purpose again and embrace his twilight years? In bringing a small corner of the Universe together he proves that human beings DO need connection – it’s what makes us thrive and has helped sustain our species.
Author Clare Pooley acknowledges that writing The Authenticity Project was a very personal experience. As an extension of her popular blog The Sober Diaries she found a certain kind of magic can exist in speaking your truth. Last year we interviewed Emma Woolf, broadcaster, journalist and author, who spoke her truth about living with anorexia through a weekly column in The Times! The simultaneous pressure and relief that Emma and Clare must have both felt to tell their story so publicly, so honestly, is difficult to fathom but they should both be applauded.
‘Maybe telling that story would change your life, or the life of someone you’ve not yet met.’
Having decided to speak my own truth recently, it was no coincidence that as I was writing this review a new song was bubbling over the airwaves about keeping secrets in our pockets. Like Riley, in the story, I smiled wryly as it played! I have picked up on several public conversations just this past two weeks concerning the question “How are you?” and how it serves more of a greeting now than a heartfelt enquiry. How many of us start to open up about our anxieties only to be met with a closed response? This often filters into “Why didn’t you tell me?” when our bloodcurdling cry for help is made. But perhaps if we were ALL more honest our insurmountable problems would diminish and our bonds would strengthen.
In truth, I love this book! I believe that we are all connected and it’s a carefully plotted way of demonstrating this. The Authenticity Project is designed to make you think, about Life, love and the rollercoaster ups and downs we each face in a continual cycle. But despite the sadness beneath the truths, The Authenticity Project is a joy from start to finish. It bounces along, navigating bumps and lovely surprises with characters that reach out and speak directly to your soul. With a brilliant twist that will evoke both shock and a smile, this uplifting idea will make you consider your own truth. And who knows – today might just be the day you decide to start your own Authenticity Project too.