About this book…
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 seaside town of Brightland. 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, leaving Leda abandoned and alone for more than half a century – until the secrets of her past result in a shocking climax, more haunting than any to be in found in the silent films of Charles Beauvois.
This is the first book I have read by Essie Fox and have to admit that I didn’t even properly read the blurb when I requested it because I just wanted to possess that beautiful cover! It is so incredibly enticing and evocative of the books period setting that I fell in love and totally judged a book by its cover!
Now anyone who knows me also knows I am a HUGE film buff. I was brought up to love old black and white films whilst watching them with my grandparents and am obsessed by the old silent films from the golden age of Hollywood. It was a time before this “celebrity culture” we live in now, where the stars of the silver screen were true glamour icons. And even now they have maintained a certain mystical quality not seen since. They, like me and that cover, were also judged by the way they looked and many lost that mystique once talkies came along and people heard their voices. But those silent stars have always remained fascinating especially to me (the Clara Bow lips as a teenager were not a particularly great success though!)
This story is mainly set in 1976 when a young reporter Ed Peters comes across a shop selling old movie memorabilia, amongst other things, and goes inside to purchase a Bette Davies photo, a favourite actress of his recently deceased mother. Once inside he meets Theo and also discovers photos of a beautiful silent film star who had only made 3 films before disappearing from that world. Theo turns out to be the brother of that enigmatic actress who’s screen name was Leda Grey and who lives locally, rarely venturing from her home. Ed goes up to the house with the intention of interviewing a woman he has developed a sudden and strange fascination with and ends up spending days talking to Leda about her past life and sinking deeper under her spell.
This book drew me in and weaved its magic within the first few pages, once I’d got used to the authors rather unique writing style. It was a spine tingling tale that delivered a real sense of time and place with a darkly atmospheric undertone. I just loved the gothic feel and how White Cliff House, with its lack of electricity and phone line, was practically a character in itself! I also found Ed’s fascination with Leda to be totally plausible as there have been cases well documented of younger men being captivated by beautiful older film stars. Leda herself was an unconventional, almost mythical figure, with her eccentric personality. I especially loved the way that mirrors dominated her flashbacks as again they encouraged us to think that maybe things were not being reflected truthfully.
This was definitely an eye opener for me and I am very keen now to read other books by Essie Fox to see how they compare to this one. She certainly has me intrigued-rather like the enigmatic Leda Grey! Her love of cinematography and the film industry comes across very strongly here and any examples of classic films used show a deep affection and knowledge of them. So, for once in my life, judging a book by its cover had worked out rather well for me!
Many thanks to the publisher Orion for my review copy of The Last Days of Leda Grey.
The Last Days of Leda Grey is published by Orion on November 3rd 2016 and is available to purchase from Amazon UK here.