Monday, February 02, 2009

My book of the month - January

I’ll admit that once I would have been a bit snobbish at the thought of book recommendations given by a popular television pair.  But over the years I’ve noticed that quite a few novels I’ve really enjoyed have appeared among the Richard & Judy selections.  I recently got a copy of The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite - so when I saw it on R & J’s 2009 selection I thought I’d jump it to the top of my reading pile.  And what a treat it was.

Beatrice Colin tried to do a few things within the novel, and achieved all with a well-handled balance.  Each chapter begins with still image (and for me there is something so thrilling about finding pictures in my novels) and a little snapshot from cinema history.

‘Every evening for a year, barring church holidays, and days off due to ill health, Arnold von Heidle and his wide, Hilda, attended the Union Movie Theatre in Alexanderplatz, Berlin.  Two hundred and fifty films they witnessed, incognito, to assemble their extraordinary statistics.  And this is what they saw: ninety-seven murders, fifty-one adulteries, nineteen seductions, thirty-five drunks, and twenty-five practising prostitutes.’

Then within the chapters we follow the story of Lilly - a gripping rags to riches story.  Her name changes with her role - Tiny Lil, Lilly, Lidi.  From orphan to housemaid to film star - from backroom fumbles to a personal invitation back to Germany from Joseph Goebbels.  Along the way we learn a bit about interwar Berlin life - especially as it impacts on a small group of women. 

We grow to love Lilly, and her perseverance and spirit despite the bad luck that always seems to dump on her doorstep. 

‘With snow thick on the ground outside and the air filled with dozens of burning cigarette ends, the bar gave the impression of warmth if not the real thing.’

This was one of those rare books that I thought about when away from its pages.  I cared enough about the characters to be eager to return to spend more time with them, and I wondered more than a little at what happened to them after the novel ended.  Hence I especially enjoyed the gently omniscient narrator who gives us little glimpses into the fate of those extras who people Lilly’s world - some get their just desserts, some don’t.

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