The Little Shadows will be published on September 27, 2011 but is already receiving a ton of buzz (including the Giller longlist Reader’s Choice). And I have to say that the praise is well-warranted. Gentle prose, quiet plot, and enticing characters are all present in Endicott’s latest novel about three sisters beginning a career in vaudeville.
The Little Shadows revolves around three sisters in the world of vaudeville before and during the First World War. We follow the lives of all three in turn: 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, who is thirteen.
The girls, overseen by their fond but barely coping Mama, are forced 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.
From the publisher, Doubleday Canada (an imprint of Random House).
I was looking forward to reading The Little Shadows because I really enjoyed Marina Endicott’s novel, Good to a Fault—which was part of Canada Reads 2010—despite the meandering pace and introverted characters. Her writing has a power to it that goes beyond what’s put on the page—the character’s emotional journey is far greater than the plot of the novel.
I didn’t want to put The Little Shadows down at night, and I didn’t want the story to end, but it wasn’t a desperate heart-racing pull that I felt. It was just a gentle tugging at my heart strings, a quiet reminder that there were things left undone and unsaid. I looked forward to pulling the book out each evening, despite being desperately tired.
“I don’t want to diminish the accomplishment of this book by using tired adjectives of description (brilliant, compelling, rich, dramatic, sexy) or understate the power of the characters (funny, strong, tragic, brave and, yes, sexy) — so I’ll simplify: the best book I’ve read in a long, long time; it deserves to be a contender for every major literary prize this fall.”
—CBC.ca, Linden MacIntyre
This quote from Linden MacIntyre (author of The Bishop’s Man) sums up how I feel about the writing and the characters. Personally I wouldn’t go so far to say it’s the best book I’ve read in a long long time, but it certainly was good.
Minor Spoiler Alert!
However, I was a little torn on the last third of the book, which was split into the sections of a stage show (Act I, Act II, intermission, etc.). I just felt that she’d sort of boxed the characters into a corner and then poof 10 years later everything is fine. But other than that, I loved the conclusion and the open-endedness of the Finale. It felt as free-spirited as the characters; like they can/could go anywhere and do anything (and will!).
Full disclosure: I received an advanced reader copy from the publisher and read the novel a few months ago. This did not affect my review in any way, shape, or form.