|The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: Three sisters try to make the big time in American vaudeville before and during World War 1. An interesting coming-of-age novel as Little Women meets J.B. Priestley's The Good Companions.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: February 2012|
|External links: Author's website|
Flora Avery's schoolmaster husband dies suddenly, leaving her three daughters and a dilemma: how does she find the money to raise them? Her answer is to return to her pre-marital profession, the one of which her husband disapproved so vocally. Flora decides to put her family on the stage as a vaudeville act. So begins a new life as they tour the backwater theatres of America and their native Canada, dreaming of a big future whilst weathering the present. Set prior to and during World War I, it wasn't just the Averys who faced changes and uncertainty.
Marina Endicott is herself Canadian and comes to the typewriter with an armful of accolades. Her first and second books (Open Arms and Good to a Fault respectively) both received prestigious awards and this particular novel has already been long-listed for one award and was in the final for a second. The question is does the readers' view match up to the experts’?
I couldn't fault the characterisation. The sisters literally grow up in the limelight before the readers' eyes. Aurora, the eldest, is determined that she will reach the nirvana of $1,000 a week but with this determination comes loyalty. She will compromise anything she needs to, but not her family or her position within it. Clover, the middle Avery, is the family carer. Whatever ills or evils befall the family (and there are plenty of both) she remains the emotional and practical pillar. Bella, the youngest, nicknamed 'Baby', is a bundle of energy, just waiting to get into trouble when backs are turned. Like most younger siblings, Bella's main objective is to grow up as fast as she can, unaware of the consequences.
What of their mother? Here, I felt, was the author at her shrewdest. I began the book thinking Flora a pushy parent, vicariously reliving her past through her children. However, a different picture soon emerges. Flora's pushiness comes from necessity – the necessity to ensure that the children are fed and kept safe. In fact, rather than put her own interests first, Flora is self-sacrificing, playing a role to hide the personal detriment this causes. It may be my age and gender coming into play here, but I found myself warming to her more as the book went on.
Similarly, most of the colourful characters that the Averys encounter on the circuit are well-drawn. The only two-dimensional people are those whom the family didn't know too well. Is this coincidence or writing mirroring life-experience? The skill of the author would hint at the latter.
My only gripe was the lengths that Ms Endicott went to in her descriptions of the stage acts. Scripts were quoted verbatim; acts were described movement by movement, almost in real time. Yes, to begin with this was interesting and created historic colour and texture. However I found its repetition through the book a bit unnecessary and glossed over these sections. Having said that, The Little Shadows is a big enough book not to suffer in content or continuity if you feel the same urge.
The wedding of the characters to the era makes this book fascinating enough to make me want to go through Marina Endicott's back catalogue. I hope the Endicott home has a broad mantelpiece – if she carries on like this, the awards will keep coming.
If you've enjoyed this and want to read some more books based on a sisterly dynamic, try The Kinsella Sisters by Kate Thompson.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott at Amazon.com.
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