Reviewed: Piece Of My Heart By Penelope Tree

‘Piece of my heart’ is the first novel by the iconic 1960’s model and ‘It Girl’ Penelope Tree. A semi autobiographical tale of a young, aristocratic woman, Ariadne (Ali), who rises to the top of the modelling world at the height of the swinging sixties, starts a relationship with a maverick, charismatic leading photographer, but discovers that the new world she exhibits can be cold and unforgiving, especially when you are no longer seen as perfect anymore. As the bright and shiny decade of the 60’s end, the new decade of the 1970’s has a darker edge and Ari will have to change in order to survive.

Fame. Money. Beauty. Sex. Love. Ari wants them all. And as the face of the 1960s, they’re hers for the taking. But to find them, she may have to lose herself.

The beauty of this book is that it is semi autobiographical, so you have fun guessing who the characters have been based on. Photographer Ramsey is quite clearly David Bailey, and Penelope creates this wonderfully complex character, a charmer who also shows insecurity when he is out of his comfort zone. Ari’s best friend, the lovely Sunny is a talented singer, I haven’t quite worked out who she could be yet, but she is, again, another fully rounded character, one which shows how wonderfully Penelope is able to create characters that connect with her reading audience. Ari is a brilliant lead character because her imperfections are there for all to see, and the fact that, at times, you want to shake her and say ‘wake up’ makes her all the more real and more vibrant.

For a first novel, this is stunning. Penelope paints pictures with her words, and the fact that so much of this is based on truth makes it vivid. The portrayal of London in the 1960’s is alive with colour and beauty, whilst my favourite section, when Ari, along with Ramsey and the stunning model Vivara (Veroushka?) travel to Kathmandu is intoxicating – it has been described as a ‘Hideous Kinky’ for a new generation and I totally see that, making the hippy trail totally come to life. There are also lots of allusions to the shadier, seemier side of 1960’s life, the easy availability of drugs and the drug busts, the death of Brian Jones and Jimi Hendrix, and even references to the awful crimes of Jimmy Saville.

This is an absorbing read that is a perfect bit of escapism, the sort of book you will want to devour in one sitting. I just kept wanting to read the next page, then the next, then the next…

Piece of my Heart by Penelope Tree is available in hardback from 23 May 2024. You can pre-order it here.


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