HOW CAN THE WHOLE WORLD KNOW YOU WHEN YOU HARDLY KNOW YOURSELF?
Sophie Leigh’s real name is Sophie Sykes. But she hasn’t been called that for years, not since she became an A-list movie star. Living in Los Angeles, she can forget all about the life she left behind in England. But she’s lost something of herself in the process, too.
Glamorous 1950s starlet Eve Noel had none of Sophie’s modern self-confidence. She didn’t choose her name. A Hollywood producer did. In fact, he made all her decisions—what to wear, when to smile, who to love. Right up until the day she simply vanished from the spotlight. No one knows where she went, or why.
As Sophie’s perfect-on-the-outside world begins to crumble, her present collides with Eve’s past. She must unravel the mystery around her idol’s disappearance before it’s too late for them both.
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Read an Excerpt
Not Without You
“And . . . coming up next . . . Sophie Leigh’s diet secrets! How the British beauty stays slim, and the answer is . . . you won’t believe it! Chewing cardboard! I know, these stars are crazy, but that’s Hollywood for you. That’s all when we come back . . .”
IT’S A BEAUTIFUL May morning. We’re on the 101, on our way into Beverly Hills. I’m heading into my agent’s office and I feel like crap. I’m super late, too. I’m always late, but when your most recent picture had an opening weekend of $23 million it doesn’t matter. I could turn up at Artie’s mom’s funeral and demand to have a meeting and he’d clear the synagogue and thank me for coming.
I flip the TV off and chuck the remote across the car, out of temptation’s reach. There was a time when a ten-second trail like that would have sent me into a tailspin. They’re saying I chew cardboard? But it’s bullshit! People’ll believe it, and then they’ll . . . they’ll . . . Now I just shrug. You have to. I’ve never chewed cardboard in my life, unless you count my performance in that action movie. It’s a slow news day. Sometimes I think they stick a pin in a copy of People magazine to choose their next victim and then make something up.
When you’ve been famous for a while, you stop reacting to stuff like this. It just becomes part of life. Not your life, but the life you wake up to and realize you’re living. People filming you on a phone when you’re washing your hands in the ladies’ room. Girls from school who you don’t remember, selling your class photo to a tabloid. Being offered $5 million to sleep with a Saudi prince. Working with stars who won’t ever take off their sunglasses, ’cause they think you’re stealing their soul if you see their eyes. Sounds unbelievable, right? But there’s been some days when I almost know what they mean. I know why some of them go bat-shit crazy, join cults, wear fake pregnancy bellies, marry complete strangers. They’re only trying to distract themselves from how totally nuts being famous is. Because that’s what fame is actually about, these days. Not private jets; diamond tiaras; mansions; and free clothes, handbags, shoes. Fame is actually about how you stay sane. How you don’t lose your mind.
I know I’m lucky. It could have been any one of hundreds of hopeful English girls from small towns with pushy mums who curled their hair and shoved them into audition rooms, but it was me, and I still don’t quite know why. All I know is, I love films, always have, ever since I was little. Lights down, trailers on, credits rolling; I knew all the studio logos by the time I was eight. My favorite was always Columbia’s—the toga lady holding the glowing torch like the sun. And I know I’m good at what I do: I make movies for people to sit back and smile at on a Friday night with their best friend and their popcorn, watching while Sophie Leigh gets into another crazy situation. Okay, it’s not Citizen Kane, but if it’s a bit of fun and you could stand to watch it again, is there anything wrong with that?
Lately I’ve been wondering, though: maybe there is. Maybe it’s all wrong. The trouble is, I can’t work out how it all got like that. Or what I should do about it. In Hollywood, you’re either a success or you’re a failure. There’s no in-between.
• • •
The freeway is crowded, and as we slow down to turn off I look up and there I am, right by the Staples Center on a billboard the size of your house. I should be used to it, but still, after six years at the top, it’s weird. Me, doing my poster smile: cute chipmunk cheeks, big, dark eyes peeking out from under the heavy trademark bangs, just the right amount of cleavage so the guys notice and don’t mind seeing the film. I’m holding out a ringless hand, smiling at you. I’m cute and friendly.
Two years of dating. She’s thinking rocks. No, not those ones, fellas . . .
SOPHIE LEIGH IS
My phone rings and I pick it up, gingerly, rubbing my eyes. “Hi, Tina,” I say.
“You’re okay?” Tina asks anxiously. “Did the car come for you?”
“Sure,” I say.
“The clothes were okay? Did you want anything else?”
Do I want anything else? The late-morning sun flashes in reflected rays through the windows; I jam my sunglasses on and sink lower against the leather seats, smiling at the memory of his asking the very same question last night, then taking my clothes off piece by piece, getting the camera out, and what we did afterward. Oh, it’s probably insane of me, this whole thing but . . . wow. He knows what he’s doing, and it’s fun, for once, to not be in charge. And I’m not stupid. I’m not some idiot who lets herself be filmed by a douche bag who puts it on the Internet.
“I’m good. Thanks for arranging it all.”
“No problem.” Tina is the most efficient assistant on the planet. She looks worried all the time, but I don’t think she actually cares where I was last night. “There’s a couple of things. Okay?”
“Go ahead.” I’m staring out the window, trying not to think about last night, smiling and biting my lip because . . . well, I’m exhausted, that kind of up-all-night skanky, hungry, and a little bit hungover exhausted. And I can’t stop smiling.
“So . . .” Tina’s voice goes into her list-recital monotone. “The People interview is tomorrow. They’ll come by the house. Ashley will arrive at eight a.m. Belle is doing your makeup frosty pink and mushroom—she says the vibe is Madonna eighties glamour meets environmental themes.” Tina takes a breath. “DeShantay wants to drop off some more outfits for the Up! Kidz Challenge Awards. She has a dress from McQueen and she says to tell you you’re gonna love it. It’s cerise, has cap sleeves, and it’s—”
“I don’t want to sweat,” I say. “Tell her no sleeves.”
“DeShantay says it won’t be a problem.”
“I’m not—” I begin, then I stop, as I can hear myself sounding like a bit of a tool. “Never mind. That’s great. Anything else?”
“Tommy’s coming over later this week to talk through endorsements.” Tommy’s my manager. “And he’s gotten Us Weekly to use some new shots of you doing yoga on the beach. The shots of you grocery shopping are running again, in In Touch. And TMZ wants the ones of you getting the manicure, only they need to reshoot—”
“Okay, okay,” I say, trying not to feel irritated, because it’s so fake when you say it out loud, but it’s true, and everyone does it. You can so tell when people don’t want their photo taken and when they do, and the ones of me pushing a shopping cart through the Malibu Country Mart wearing the new Marc Jacobs sandals and a Victoria Beckham shift, holding up some apples and laughing with a girlfriend, came out the same week as The Girlfriend and I’m telling you: it’s part of the reason that film has done so well. It’s all total bullshit, though. The clothes were on loan, and the friend was Tina. My assistant. And I don’t go food shopping; I’ve got a housekeeper. Be honest. If you had someone to do all that for you, would you still go pushing a shopping cart around the supermarket? Exactly. Today stars have to look like normal, approachable people. Fifty years ago, it was the other way around. My favorite actress is Eve Noel; I’ve seen all her movies a million times, and A Girl Named Rose is my favorite film of all time, without a doubt. You didn’t have photos of Eve Noel in some 1950s Formica store buying her groceries in a dress Givenchy loaned her. Oh, no. She was a goddess—remote, beautiful, untouchable. I’m America’s English sweetheart. Pay $3.99 for a weekly magazine and you can see my nipples in a T-shirt doing the sun salutation on Malibu beach.
Another thing: I starved myself for three days to fit into that fucking Victoria Beckham dress. That girl sure loves the skinny.
We’re off the highway, gliding down the wide boulevards of Beverly Hills, flanked on either side by vast mansions: old-looking French chateaux wedged right next to glass-and-chrome cubes next to English Gothic castles, Spanish haciendas, and the rest. On my first trip here, with my best friend, Donna, both of us aged nineteen, driving around LA in a brown Honda Civic, these houses blew our minds—they looked like a child’s toy town. It’s funny how things change. Now they seem normal. I know a couple of people who live in them, and I haven’t seen Donna in nearly seven years. Where is she now? Still living in Shamley, last time I googled her.
We’re coming up to Wilshire and I need to check my makeup. “I’ll see you later,” I tell Tina. “Thanks again.”
“Oh—one more thing. I’m sorry, Sophie. Your mom called again.” I stiffen instinctively. “She says you have to call her back.” Tina clears her throat. “Deena’s coming to stay with you. Tonight.”
The compact mirror drops to the floor.
“Deena? She can’t just— Tell her she can’t.”
Tina’s voice is apologetic. “Your mom said she has roaches and it needs to be sprayed and . . . she’s got nowhere to go.”
Deena is my mum’s best friend. And my godmother. And a crazy person. “I don’t care. Deena is not bloody staying. Why’s she getting Mum to phone up and do her dirty work for her anyway? No. No way.”
My head feels like it’s in a vise. It always aches when I don’t eat: I’m trying to lose ten pounds before The Bachelorette Party starts shooting.
“Her cell is broken. That’s why. So—uh—okay.” Tina’s tone conveys it all. She keeps me on the straight and narrow, I sometimes think. I’d be a Grade A egomaniac otherwise.
I clear my throat and growl. “Look. I’ll try and call Mum and put her off. Don’t worry about it. Listen, though, if Deena turns up . . .” Then I run out of steam. “Watch her. Make sure she doesn’t steal anything again.”
“Sure, Sophie,” says Tina, and I end the call with a sigh, trying not to frown. There are wrinkles at the corners of my eyes and lines between my eyebrows; I’ve noticed them lately. The Sophie Leigh on the poster doesn’t frown. She doesn’t have wrinkles. She’s twenty-eight, she’s happy all the time, and she knows how great her life is. That’s not true. I’m thirty, and I keep thinking I’m going to get found out.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Not Without You includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Eve Noel, a British actress haunted by a childhood trauma, is discovered by the film industry and lands in Hollywood, where she becomes a major star in the glamorous 1950s movie world. Then, suddenly, she disappears from the spotlight, and no one seems to know what happened to her. Decades later, Sophie Leigh, another English beauty, is the hottest thing in Hollywood, but she’s itching to do a different kind of film, one that breaks her out of the rom-com box. A role like one Eve Noel, her idol, would have played.
A series of unsettling events has Sophie realize that her life is linked with Eve Noel’s. Coming home to make a movie deep in the English countryside she is forced to confront not only her own demons but Eve’s too—but will she be too late for both of them?
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The prologue begins with Rose telling Eve that elves have left gold coins in the stream, introducing the ideas of imagination and make-believe from the very beginning of this story. Where else do you see these ideas threaded through in Eve’s life—in her career choice, her romantic life, her later years? Do you see them echoed in Sophie’s life as well?
2. On the surface, Eve and Sophie have a lot in common—their English heritage, their beauty, their talent, their glamorous careers, even their house. But there are differences too—in their families, in the romantic lives, in what motivates them. Do you think they’re more alike or more different? Did you identify more with Eve or with Sophie?
3. How does Eve’s relationship with her largely absent parents affect her? What about Sophie, with her pushy stage mom, who gave up her own career for Sophie? Which one, in the end, had it better?
4. Setting plays an important role in the story, with the contrast between sunny, carefree California and the green, rainy English countryside especially pronounced. How do you see the setting affecting the action of the story? What other locations are used in the book, and how do they affect the scenes that take place there?
5. Sophie finds herself the subject of many ridiculous stories in the tabloids, from Armpitgate to her near-engagement to Patrick, whom she barely knows. How do you see the tabloids manipulating Sophie throughout the story? How do Sophie and the Hollywood machine manipulate them? How was it different in Eve’s day? In the end, is what’s true more important than what the public sees?
6. On the surface, some of the parts of the story set in Hollywood feel fun and glamorous, almost somewhat superficial, but they actually have a lot to say about the problems women in Hollywood—and women everywhere—have being taken seriously. Where else do you see the author hinting at the idea that women and men don’t always have a level playing field?
7. What does the book say about Hollywood’s focus on standards for women’s beauty? How does what happens to Eve and Sophie reflect this? How are the characters of Deena, Sara, and Tina affected by it?
8. After Eve became famous, she admits she “couldn’t remember who I was, what I was supposed to be.” (p. 176) Does her life in Hollywood cause this confusion? Is it something the studio makes her feel intentionally? Do you think this can be read as a judgment about Hollywood?
9. “I felt as if, every time, I became Rose. I became myself, truly myself.” (p. 201) Throughout the story, Eve and her sister are confused for one another—sometimes on accident, sometimes by their own choice. Eve even refers to Eve and Rose as the two parts of her personality. (p. 334) Why do you think Eve is so willing to be known as her sister? Do you see Eve and Rose’s relationship as sweet, or as something darker?
10. Eve spends much of the book hiding—behind a false marriage to Gilbert, behind Rose, behind her letters to Don. What is she afraid of? In what ways does her Hollywood career cause this? What else adds to this? Is acting—by its very nature, escaping reality— in some ways the perfect career for her? Why or why not?
11. Conrad’s homosexuality is treated as a disease, while Rose’s epilepsy is seen as a mental disorder. Even Eve’s postpartum breakdown is treated with electric shock therapy, which causes her to lose parts of her memory. How have attitudes about these conditions changed? In what ways haven’t they? Are there other conditions or situations in the book that seem to be products of their time?
12. The studios in Eve’s time are shown to be struggling against the new technology of television, as well as from actors and directors— including Gilbert—putting together projects on their own without their help. They seem to be fighting to hold on to a dying system. How else do you see that theme echoed in the book? Do you see parallels to today’s entertainment culture?
13. “I think I had it coming,” (p. 393) Sophie says of her attack. What does she mean by that? Is there any merit to her claim? How does the attack change her? Do you think Sophie ends up better off after the attack? Why or why not?
14. Which real-life movie stars did the characters remind you of? Did they have echoes of any real stars? Which old movies in particular did Eve’s story remind you of, if any?
15. “What happened next? That’s what you always want to know at the end of a film, isn’t it? Did they live happily ever after?” (p. 421) Do you think Eve and Don live happily ever after? What about Sophie and Patrick? Do you think the ending is clear about what happens next for these characters? Why or why not? How does that affect your reading of the story?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Pick up a couple of tabloid magazines and flip through them together. How are the actors portrayed? Before reading this book, how much of what was printed would you have believed? Has reading this book changed your impression of what the magazines print? Does it matter whether what’s printed is true or not?
2. There are several excellent biographies of William Shakespeare, including Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt and Shakespeare: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd. Read one of these, and watch Shakespeare in Love or a movie adaptation of one of his plays. Discuss the various ways in which Shakespeare’s work and life has been used by the movie industry as perennially fresh material. Think about how his plays have transferred to the big screen and what you feel has worked, and have enjoyed as entertainment, and what hasn’t.
3. While Eve’s movies are fictional, there are many wonderful films that Eve could have starred in and bring Eve’s world to life. Watch a movie from the late 1950s or early 1960s—you might check out one starring Elizabeth Taylor, who beats out Eve for the Oscar in this story—and discuss how it’s different from movies produced today and how you see echoes of this story in it.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Goodreads First Reads Winner! I can hardly describe what I thought of this book. Words can't describe how I loved the complexity of the characters and the interweaving of life stories. Need to read it again, in one sitting, to fully comprehend and appreciate the beauty of this incredible novel. The cover is brilliant. The book is comfortable in size and easy to hold. Best wishes to Ms. Evans. I can't wait to read more of your work!
A well constructed story that pulls you along. One of the best books I've read this year.
I could not get into this book. Terrible.
Or two subjects if you expect a sale andnot pig in a poke
could not put this book down!!! loved it from start to finish- was sad when it was over
This is a wonderful peak into how Hollywood works now and back in the 50's. The characters are flawed, but very likable. I would highly recommend this book.