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the daily review, thursday, sept. 17

Shinan Govani

Back in the day, when I worked as a PR flack at Chum television, courting the society/gossip reporter was part of my job. It was a delicate balancing act between inviting the columnists in and keeping them at bay. We wanted boldface but not some of the more unseemly tidbits that might come with it. It was a game; sometimes I had the power, sometimes they did, depending on the desired outcome. After a while, if the players stayed the same, it was a predicable and well acted play.

This was quite a few years before the advent of the ubiquitous Shinan Govani, the National Post tattler and author of Boldface Names, who has the flack/hack relationship down pat, and uses his book to show exactly how. It features a main character named Ravi, uncannily similar to the man himself, who attends functions, writes about them and, in the case of the book, at least, has slight traces of a conscience, a desire to explain his vocation and hankers to leave behind the high life of celebrity-watching and all its many perks.

Boldface Names contains, well ... many boldface names, plus some well-wrought descriptions of other famous people who, perhaps by some celeb-versus-columnist code of ethics, cannot be named. It's the randomness of those selections that might pique some interest and wag some tongues. A thinly disguised "Lord & Lady Ivory" are obviously Conrad Black and Barbara Amiel, and "two boldface politicians; one snowy haired and one not," who were past college roommates and then political rivals are Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff. Yet names with less cachet also appear incognito, such as the MTV Canada personalities and local television stations and hosts, and one or two D-list Hollywood celebrities. At some points in the book, the naming of names and Ravi/Shinan's proximity to and acquaintance with fame seem to be its only raison d'être.

Boldface Names centres on Ravi, the social columnist/people watcher for a fictional newspaper, The National Mirror. When the story opens, our guy is having a romp with his wife, Rory, a secret his editors force him to keep lest it lessen the mystique of his much-questioned sexuality. Once he's quenched and placated her needs by promising to take her away from it all when he gets his Paris writing fellowship, he's off to a party at Lord and Lady Ivory's, where he encounters one Mr. Darcy, who later enlists him to help out a young future starlet.

Subterfuge, a little chaos and much name-dropping ensue before it's revealed to Ravi that the pretty young thing is the third Olsen sister, the long lost triplet to round out Mary-Kate and Ashley. The action takes Ravi and his young charge, Leeza (the recipient of such grave lessons as always carry a Moleskine so people will find you interesting and deep), to fashion shows, a Dubai film fest, the Giller Prize and to TIFF. At the Giller Prize gala, no less, their lives are threatened when a disgruntled ex-National Mirror single-gal columnist, who got pregnant then turfed (any guesses who this is?) wields a gun, prompting Leeza to tell Ravi her secret identity. Thus begins Ravi's crisis of career, when he has to decide how, or if, to tell all.

At the Gillers we also meet The Formidable Authoress and the Richest Man in the Room/Country. Part of the game of the book, I guess, is to try to figure out who these people are in real life. Boldface Names was barely in stores before articles began appearing speculating about who's who and what Toronto resto/lounge Govani is praising or skewering. It's a compendium of frivolous yet important pop culture, a Coles notes to the stars, Celebrity 101, in which Ravi/Shinan shows off just exactly how far-reaching his knowledge and memory go. It's a romp, it's frothy and fun.

Now, if Govani is as well read as his doppelganger, and with the way he has with a metaphor (even with his overuse of hyphenated, made-up, de rigueur words and phrases), you have to wonder why he didn't write something else entirely. Something a little further afield from the party-going, name-dropping, power-wielding yet limiting tale told from an exclusive and, we're supposed to feel, enviable behind-the-scenes vantage point.

I've seen and heard the book being called "social satire," but in an age when celebrity antics pass for hard news, coming at us breathlessly from every corner of the media, it's difficult to make a case for a gossip columnist toying so precariously with his own livelihood - even if it takes place mostly in Toronto and we Canadians care far less about our so-called star system than our U.S. counterparts. Perhaps Govani has an exit strategy similar to that of his fictional twin, a serious writing career plan to take him away from the gruelling, vacant world of celebrity gossip/worship.

Now, I'm not above indulging in a little gossip once in a while. In fact, Govani's boldface is a pretty old-school compared to the TMZ.coms and Perez Hiltons, which try to pass as news outlets. As Govani has mentioned in some of his interviews around the book, it's human nature to talk about other people, and that's part of the attraction of his column. I look forward, however, to him putting his obviously creative brain to more imaginative literary use.

P.S. I wrote this review in my Moleskine.

Carla Lucchetta is a Toronto writer and television producer .