Reviewed by Mike Clarke
This is a slight book (in more ways than one).
Tessa Charlotte Rampling OBE, the daughter of a British Olympic gold medallist, is a model and actor famous for her roles in films such as Georgy Girl (1966), The Dammed (1969) and The Night Porter (1974). In 2015 she was nominated for an Oscar for her role in the film 45 Years. She also has appeared in several popular TV series, Dexter and more recently, Broadchurch.
She was an icon of the Swinging Sixties along with Julie Christie, Jean Shrimpton and Maryanne Faithfull. Among the many men in her life was Jean Michel Jarre, the famous French pioneer of synth music to whom she was married for many years until his unfaithfulness led to a very public divorce.
Given all of this, one would expect a book with a least some background of her long career. But no, and here we must bring in her co-conspirator in this tome.
Christophe Bataille is a French novelist and publisher. He is also apparently besotted with Ms Rampling as some of his sugary prose demonstrates – but more of that (well, just a bearable bit) later.
To try to understand why and how this book came to be written we need to go back to 2009. In that year Charlotte Rampling received a considerable advance for contributing to a conventional biography to be written by Barbara Victor. She apparently had a change of heart and used the Human Rights Act to prevent Victor from publishing anything based on their collaboration. Her argument was on the grounds that it would violate her right to privacy. It has been pointed out that in the light of her penchant for screen roles which required her to appear nude (or almost nude), requesting privacy was drawing a rather long bow.
It would appear, as a result, that she has addressed the lack of her version of an authorised biography with this effort. Effort is probably not the right word.
WHO I AM requires a considerable amount of concentration, particularly in the early pages, to establish who is talking. The narration between Christophe Bataille and Rampling collides with a confusing number of you’s and ‘I’s changing in paragraphs.
For example: Christophe Bataille in full flight.
We listen to a song in silence, then two, then five. You bow your head, clasping your hands. I feel weak, my muscles ache. When the music ends, you say,’ Well, Christophe, when shall we see each other again? (18)
This continues for a page before we appear to get a response from Charlotte:
I walk forwards, I walk backwards, one step behind the other. I walk backwards towards myself. Endlessly returning to the point of departure. The start of the beginning. The beginning of my life. Who I am. (21)
WHO I AM gives the impression that it is a cathartic revelation of a couple of events in Rampling’s life which have remained hidden or in one case, avoided.
Her father, Godfrey, won gold at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 and despite being a complex character is held in somewhat awe by his youngest daughter, Charlotte. He was married to an upper class beauty, Margaret, who was an avid diarist. Margaret assiduously kept all family records but after her death, Godfrey bundled them all up and left them on the footpath outside his home.
It wasn’t until a little man Charlotte describes as Dickensian, knocked on her door offering to sell her the documents that she became aware of her father’s action.
We learn also that after returning from World War II Godfrey was down on his luck and decided to sell his Berlin Olympic Gold Medal only to discover that the medal was made of steel. A rare example of Herr Hitler’s sense of humour!
The avoided event in Charlotte’s life was the death in Argentina of her adored elder sister, Sarah who committed suicide after giving birth to a baby boy in Buenos Aires.
Rampling seems to have been in denial about her sister’s death for many years and refused to visit her grave in Argentina or have anything to do with her nephew, Sarah’s son.
There is though, a happy ending to this sad tale. Why it required the involvement (effort would be too strong a word) of three people to compile (as opposed to “write”) it remains a mystery to this reviewer.
The publishers describe WHO I AM as an autobiography. I am not sure, in the light of its selective brevity, that it can be described as such. A grab for publicity might be nearer the mark.
By Charlotte Rampling with Christophe Bataille
Allen & Unwin
112 pp; $24.99