The best fictional books featuring real life people

Who am I?

The central themes in my own writing have always encompassed those of identity, the nature of reality, and variations on immortality. The lives of ‘celebrities’ touch upon all those themes, albeit through a distorted kaleidoscope where their own lives and the public’s perceptions of their lives intersect and are amplified and a third ‘character’ – that of the composite person, is then brought into existence. I find it fascinating how we can all be myriad people dependent upon who we interact with, and this is heightened when layered over the notion of ‘celebrity’ and fame by association. The books I've chosen act as mirrors to celebrity, but also work as great storytelling.


I wrote...

Candescent Blooms

By Andrew Hook,

Book cover of Candescent Blooms

What is my book about?

Candescent Blooms is a collection of twelve short stories which form fictionalised biographies of mostly Golden Era Hollywood actors who suffered untimely deaths. From Olive Thomas in 1920 through to Grace Kelly in 1982, these pieces utilise facts, fiction, gossip, movies, and unreliable memories to examine the life of each individual character set against a Hollywood background of hope and corruption, opportunity, and reality.

The books I picked & why

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Blonde

By Joyce Carol Oates,

Book cover of Blonde

Why this book?

Blonde is a fictional biography of Marilyn Monroe. I tend not to read thick books – and this is over 600 pages – and I only had a passing interest in Monroe before beginning it, but the book was highly recommended so I gave it a go. I’m glad that I did. 

This is a colossus of a book – in size, in scope, in adaptation, in emotion. The mood is tragedy – tragedy on so many levels it hurts to think about them. Oates pitches the 'Monroe' character perfectly. And for me, the book's strength comes from the fact that I'm content with this as a piece of fiction. I don't need to know the 'truth' (however, so much truth can ever be known).

It's also a book that makes me angry. A book that pitches hope against fate, all men against one woman, fame against success. We want a happy ending, are desperate for a happy ending, knowing full well that happy ending can never come. It's a bittersweet read, a heartache. I couldn't fault it.

Blonde

By Joyce Carol Oates,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Blonde as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The National Book Award finalist and national bestseller exploring the life and legend of Marilyn Monroe

Now a Netflix Film starring Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale and Julianne Nicholson

In one of her most ambitious works, Joyce Carol Oates boldly reimagines the inner, poetic, and spiritual life of Norma Jeane Baker—the child, the woman, the fated celebrity, and idolized blonde the world came to know as Marilyn Monroe. In a voice startlingly intimate and rich, Norma Jeane tells her own story of an emblematic American artist—intensely conflicted and driven—who had lost her way. A powerful portrait of Hollywood’s…


Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

By Quentin Tarantino,

Book cover of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Why this book?

I saw the film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood before reading the book. And I loved the film, one of Tarantino’s best, where – as in Inglourious Basterds – he uses fictional characters to create a world in which factual characters might exist, to the extent that the reality of the script and the reality of real life become inevitably intertwined, in ways in which reality can be distorted to a better end. This playing of fantasy and reality and the myths (the Once Upon A Time…) that storytelling can distort, is ably rendered by this book which I understand Tarantino wrote after the film was finished. There’s greater expansion on the back stories of the stuntman and his double, and less around the Manson murders, but for a film buff the book is a delight in which Tarantino’s fascination for cinema shines through, and therefore is well worth the read because of that.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

By Quentin Tarantino,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE DELUXE HARDBACK EDITION FEATURING NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN PHOTOS, BONUS MATERIAL & AN EXCLUSIVE BOUNTY LAW SCRIPT BY QUENTIN TARANTINO

Quentin Tarantino's long-awaited first work of fiction - at once hilarious, delicious, and brutal - is the always surprising, sometimes shocking new novel based on his Academy Award-winning film.

The sunlit studio back lots and the dark watering holes of Hollywood are the setting for this audacious, hilarious, disturbing novel about life in the movie colony, circa 1969.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of washed-up actor Rick Dalton. Once Rick had his own television series, a famous western…


The Atrocity Exhibition

By J.G. Ballard,

Book cover of The Atrocity Exhibition

Why this book?

The Atrocity Exhibition is an experimental novel that reads more like a collection of loosely-linked short stories split into a series of vignettes. Written in 1969 it alludes to many celebrities of the period, focusing in particular on those who met violent or tragic ends. So the (not literal) ghosts of J. F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and Albert Camus are represented as springboards for themes that are mostly sexual, fetishistic, centred around art and celebrity and the personification of desire and status represented by the automobile. It’s not an easy read – and for some, it might be considered obscene – however, the cumulative effect is to shine an unrelenting arc light on the nature of celebrity and how it bleeds into the everyday lives of consumers, who feel they know their stars inside out but who probably don’t know them at all.

The Atrocity Exhibition

By J.G. Ballard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Atrocity Exhibition as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A prophetic and experimental masterpiece by J. G. Ballard, the acclaimed author of 'Crash' and 'Super-Cannes'. This edition includes explanatory notes from the author.

The irrational, all-pervading violence of the modern world is the subject of this extraordinary tour de force.

The central character's dreams are haunted by images of John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, dead astronauts and car-crash victims as he traverses the screaming wastes of nervous breakdown. Seeking his sanity, he casts himself in a number of roles: H-bomber pilot, presidential assassin, crash victim, psychopath. Finally, through the black, perverse magic of violence he transcends his psychic…


Leytonstone

By Stephen Volk,

Book cover of Leytonstone

Why this book?

This is a great novella based on a specific incident in the young Alfred Hitchcock's life which subsequently forms the backbone for his demeanor, interests, films, and philosophy. Fictionalised biography can come under criticism for not being accurate and it's true that some factual accuracy is put aside here but that's not to the detriment of story. Volk doesn't put a foot wrong in tone, characterisation, or prose. This is an engaging, compelling work that illuminates Hitchcock in the same way that Joyce Carol Oates' Blonde illuminates Monroe or John Connolly's He does the same for Stan Laurel. Thoroughly enjoyed it. This version is no longer available, but it forms part of The Dark Masters trilogy featuring similar characterisations of the actor Peter Cushing and writer Aleister Crowley which is also highly recommended.

Leytonstone

By Stephen Volk,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Leytonstone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


He

By John Connolly,

Book cover of He

Why this book?

He is a fictionalized account of the comedian Stan Laurel's life. Being a massive fan of Laurel & Hardy, whose films remain irrepressibly funny to this day, and having read several factual books about Stan and his sidekick, it was a no-brainer to pick this up and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Whilst at times it feels like a ‘tick box’ situation regarding some of the events that an aficionado of Laurel would expect to be covered, at other times it provides an acute insight into the man behind the films. The similarity of the process on show here is so close to Blonde that a comparison is inevitable, and whilst he doesn’t provide the same emotional impact and is quite clinical in the telling, it nevertheless remains an important work in its own right and therefore is highly recommended.

He

By John Connolly,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked He as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An extraordinary recreation of one of the most enduring and beloved partnerships in cinema history: Laurel & Hardy.

Winner of the 2017 Ryan Tubridy Show Listener's Choice Award at the Irish Book Awards.

John Connolly recreates the golden age of Hollywood for an intensely compassionate study of the tension between commercial demands and artistic integrity and the human frailties behind even the greatest of artists.

An extraordinary reimagining of the life of one of the greatest screen comedians the world has ever known: a man who knew both adoration and humiliation; who loved, and was loved in turn; who betrayed,…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Marilyn Monroe, movie stars, and Hollywood?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Marilyn Monroe, movie stars, and Hollywood.

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