A delicious, decadent, freewheeling historical novel which begins in the decades prior to World War 1, where young Claude Ballard glimpses a demonstration by the Lumière brothers. He becomes their agent,travelling worldwide and demonstrating their remarkable invention, silent film. Told as a series of reminiscences, Claude relates his life story to a young and eager film student who has tracked him down to the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel. Claude forages for mushrooms in the L.A. Hills and keeps company with the other faded residents as well as reel upon reel of decaying celluloid, fragments from his days as a director and filmmaker. He recounts his lifelong obsession with Sabine Montrose, the icon whose celebrity turned toxic, and the boom and bust of the first days of cinema. It captures moments from a grandiose time where extravagant budgets allowed for disposable tigers and stuntmen routinely died on set. I thought the tone was perfect, conjuring a wonderment partly mystic and partly mundane. Dominic Smith’s other novels similarly deal with a time and situation where something magnificent was invented, be it the Dutch Golden Age of painting or photography’s beginning in the daguerrotype. An escapist delight!
Allen & Unwin 2019