FICTION//The Last Days of Leda Grey- Essie Fox


This book is one that, in theory, I should love from the get-go: a young journalist buys a mysterious photo of a beautiful young woman, who turns out to be the seller’s now-elderly sister and a former silent film actress. The writer becomes so obsessed with her that he visits and a strange relationship develops. Perfect on all angles, considering my habit of buying old photos and my love of the history of film, right?

In some ways, yes, it’s an interesting story. The character of Leda Grey is clearly inspired by Theda Bara, down to a headdress of rotting snakes (Theda Bara is well worth losing some time down a Wikipedia hole.)

However, a few things just drove me utterly bonkers, which meant I couldn’t enjoy the book (and I am aware that I am in a minority with this book, as loads of people have loved it.)

Mainly, it’s this: all of the actions take place in ‘Brightland’, which is clearly Brighton. There’s a Pavilion, Black Rock and Hove is just down the road. The characters drink in a pub called The Bath Arms. Which exists (I work just round the corner from it.) SO WHY PRETEND THE PLACE IS CALLED SOMETHING ELSE? Why not pick a lane? Either set it in Brighton, which is fine, loads of books are set here, or make somewhere new up. It really bothered me, especially as it was constantly referred to.

The story itself is magic realism tied up with a real, fascinating period in history (and Brighton did have a role to play in the history of silent cinema), but in this case it’s a backdrop for something slightly claustrophobic and melodramatic. I felt that it couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a historical novel, a crime novel, or something else entirely.

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