Wednesday, October 12, 2011

First Words: The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott

A summer evening. Moths dance in the lights outside the opera house.

A girl in a white dress slides into a seat on the aisle beside her father. The hall is crowded, many standing at the back. Ladies exclaim over the playbill while men, heads bent together, talk about the war. An older, greying soldier sits with his kind-faced wife. Her big black boot tucks out of sight behind his leg.

The curtain sways, curling along its bottom edge in a velvet wave, swept not by wind or the weight of the moon but by a company assembling backstage.

In the enfolding darkness of the wings, Aurora reaches out her hand on one side to find Clover's thin one; on the other Bella's small and strong. Their warm clasps stills her trembling.

Silver-shelled footlights snap a scalloped arc of light onto the main curtain. Fresh red velvet: crimson lake, bright blood, the colour of love. Murmurs cease as the violins come creaking into tune, their mild excitable cacophony resolving into sense and meaning, into A, the one note they all seek. In the audience, silence falls. The cessation of visiting, the folding of programmes, the last adjustment to the seats.

Tips of shoes show beneath the bobble-fringe - a quiet rumpus, that must be the girls.

The band master taps his stand.
It is about to start.
Breath in --

The Little Shadows revolves around three sisters in the world of vaudeville before and during the First World War:
Aurora, the eldest and most beautiful, who is sixteen when the book opens; thoughtful Clover, a year younger; and the youngest sister, joyous headstrong sprite Bella. The girls, overseen by their fond but barely coping Mama, set out to make their living as a singing act after the untimely death of their father. They begin with little besides youth and hope, but Marina Endicott’s genius is to show how the three girls slowly and steadily evolve into true artists even as they navigate their way to adulthood among a cast of extraordinary characters – some of them charming charlatans, some of them unpredictable eccentrics, and
some of them just ordinary-seeming humans with magical gifts.

With her gorgeous prose and extraordinary insight, Endicott lures us onto the brightly lit stage and then into the little shadows that lurk behind the curtain, and reveals how the art of vaudeville -- in all its variety, madness, melodrama, hilarity and sorrow -- echoes the art of life itself.

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