“Mesdames et Messieurs, presenting La Petite Mort, or, A Little Death…
A silent film, destroyed in a fire in 1913 at the Pathé studio, before it was seen even by its director. A lowly seamstress, who makes the costumes she should be wearing, but believes her talent – and the secret she keeps too – will soon get her a dressing room of her own. A beautiful house in Paris, with a curving staircase, a lake, and locked rooms. A famous – and dashing – creator of spectacular cinematic illusions, husband to a beautiful, volatile actress, the most adored icon of the Parisian studios. All fit together, like scenes in a movie. And as you will see, this plot has a twist we beg you not to disclose …”
After a few recommendations, I downloaded Beatrice Hitchman’s debut novel, Petite Mort, onto my Kindle. It’s not very much of a secret that I love anything remotely 20s-related, and this sounded right up my street. It’s the story of Adéle Roux, a young girl who goes to Paris to follow her dream of becoming an actress. After an audition, however, she finds herself working as a seamstress (and not a very good one) in the costume department. A few weeks into her new role, one of the film companies producers, André Durand, offers her a very different job – as personal assistant to Pathé’s leading lady, and André’s wife, Terpsichore. After moving into their house, Adéle becomes more entwined in their lives. Fifty years after events in the novel, and now somewhat notorious, Adéle is telling her story to a young journalist, Juliette.
The twist in the novel was well-disguised, and a couple of times I thought that I’d worked it out, only to be proved wrong. Adéle is a believable, sympathetic character, as are Luce (Terpsichore’s real, offstage, name) and André. Even though there were points where I didn’t like the characters, they were given backstories which explained them. I read this really quickly, partly because I was enjoying it, and partly because it’s written so vividly that it almost reads like watching a film – fitting for a book about the cinema industry.
Have you read Petite Mort? What did you think?