Publication date: 3rd November 2016
What remains behind the crumbling façade of White Cliff House in 1976 is its solitary resident and ageing star of the silent movie, Leda Grey. As time passed the strange and alluring artefacts of many a movie set are all she has for company. Yet she seems content to be alone, sweeping the dusty floor with the hem of her fraying skirt as it trails behind her.
Leda has one advantage over the bricks and mortar as she is destined to live forever after being immortalised on film by a ‘special effects’ pioneer and director, Charles Beauvois. With many an infectious spark of genius enticing her further into his possessive, artistic lair, Beauvois became her lover and captured the essence of his leading lady in more ways than one.
The parts she played during her life are sealed in metal film reels just waiting for someone to release her by feasting their eyes upon the startling, flickering imagery once more. That someone would be Ed Peters, a restless arts’ journalist who first learned of Leda Grey when her penetrating eyes meet his from behind a shop window. He is instantly attracted to the young subject in the old black and white photograph and is desperate to learn more about this spectral beauty of the silent screen, as he feels compelled to write her story.
What follows is a surreal relationship and the obscure manner in which Leda to choses to share the knowledge of her captivating early life with this young and welcome stranger. As she allows Ed into her world, I found myself immersed in an ethereal fantasy which is both seductive and tragic.
As I continued, I found an eeriness settling upon White Cliff House. It has become the polar opposite of the serenity captured by a camera lens decades earlier; a solitary candle burns low, the hands of the clock no longer turn, and the redundant props in the studio in the grounds look positively ghoulish, adopting a sinister connotation.
It’s as though after the last film was made, Leda chose to become an integral part of the decaying set while the memories of the long gone cast stir around her. During Ed’s captivating visits, he witnesses a peculiar wildness between twilight and reality, until he becomes utterly distracted by this eccentric recluse and begins to question his own sanity.
The intensely sensual and untamed echoes of the past come alive in The Last Days of Leda Grey. It is an exquisitely written, tantalising mystery heaving with imagination, atmosphere and drama. And as I have experienced when reading Essie Fox’s previous work, the techniques she applies when conveying her mesmerising stories provide so much more than I could ever dream of. Bravo!
(I received an advanced digital copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley, and this is my unbiased opinion.)
(Courtesy of Amazon UK)
A bewitching novel about an enigmatic silent film actress, and the volatile love affair that left her a recluse for over half a century – for fans of Sarah Waters and Tracy Chevalier.
During the oppressive heat wave of 1976 a young journalist, Ed Peters, finds an Edwardian photograph in a junk shop in the Brighton Lanes. It shows an alluring, dark-haired girl, an actress whose name was Leda Grey.
Enchanted by the image, Ed learns Leda Grey is still living – now a recluse in a decaying cliff-top house she once shared with a man named Charles Beauvois, a director of early silent film. As Beauvois’s muse and lover, Leda often starred in scenes where stage magic and trick photography were used to astonishing effect.
But, while playing a cursed Egyptian queen, the fantasies captured on celluloid were echoed in reality when Beauvois suspected a love affair between Leda and her leading man. A horrific accident left Leda abandoned and alone for more than half a century – until Ed Peters finds her and hears the secrets of her past, resulting in a climax more haunting than any to be found in the silent films of Charles Beauvois.
(Courtesy of Amazon UK)
Essie Fox’s debut novel THE SOMNAMBULIST was selected for the Channel 4 TV Book Club and was shortlisted for a National Book Award in 2012. She is the author of The Virtual Victorian (virtualvictorian.blogspot.com), and divides her time between Windsor and Bow in the East End of London. She can be found on Twitter @essiefox.
OTHER EXQUISITE BOOKS BY ESSIE FOX…
(The covers below relate to the books I already own – I think the artwork is magnificent!)