Women’s Literature Festival-Womens Writing Today-Beatrice Hitchman

In the build up to the Women’s Literature Festival in Bristol on the 16-17 March, BookElf will be reviewing the work of the writers on the Womens Writing Today panel. The event will look at the issues facing women writers today, and their inspirations for their work.

Beatrice Hitchman lived in Paris for a year after her MA, and then worked as a documentary film editor, writing and directing her own short films as well. Its no surprise that film is the subject of her debut novel, Petite Mort, which is published on the 7 March and which you should definitely pre-order.   Sarah Waters meets Kate Morton, and if you’re a fan of both these writers you’ll know how glorious that would be. Petite Mort is part sexual coming of age story, part mystery, part homage to the silent film but most of all a macabre tale of lies and deceit with more twists than her publisher’s logo.   When I received this book in the post (thank you), I thought to myself ‘Lovely vintage cover about earlier twentieth century Parisian film industry with title that’s a metaphor for orgasm? If you must’. Maybe part of the reason I enjoyed this book so much was that is encapsulated all my favourite kinds of fiction, but what’s wrong with enjoying what you like?   In 1913 Adele Roux, a 17 year old country girl who has fallen in love with cinema and is encouraged in her dream to become an actress by her local parish priest, runs away from an abusive father to Paris, to a life considerably less rosy than she thought she would find. Eventually finding work in the Pathe Films factory sewing costumes she finds herself under the eye of production genius Andre Durand. However Andre has his own secrets, and his wife, the great actress Terpsichore, is hiding even more. As Adele becomes more and more involved with the Durand family she finds herself in a web made up of the glittering Parisian society and the volatile world of early cinema, can she ever escape, and does she even want to?   Fifty years later and the ‘forgotten’ reel of the film Petite Mort is found in a Parisian basement miraculously unharmed. The film was supposedly destroyed along with everything else to do with the film in a great fire in 1913. Juliette, a journalist reporting on the discovered film, becomes involved in piecing together the mystery of the Pathe fire, Petite Mort itself and the history of Adele Roux.   Interspersed with this story are those of Andre and Terpsichore, the history of cinema is told along the way. Although the books main plot is rather weird and meandering in places, these little snapshots of other lives make this a macabre, but fascinating book.

This book is slow in places, and rather farcical in others, but that is for me part of its charm. The complete lack of subtlety in the title, and the wonderful blurb, “this plot has a twist we beg you not to disclose”… make this a publicists dream. But the writing itself is worthy of praise in how addictive a read this is-I finished it in two days on the bus and at lunch hour and it isn’t a short book. If you’re a fan of the early twentieth century, cinema, Parisian elegance or slightly sapphic flavours then I’d give this debut a go. I also can’t wait to see what else Beatrice Hitchman has to offer and very much look forward to meeting her at this event.

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