“1969. Hollywood descends on a tiny Scottish village for the making of Billy Wilder’s most ambitious picture yet: a sprawling epic detailing The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. But the formidable director and his crew soon come into conflict with Jim Outhwaite, a young scientist seeking evidence for monsters.
2014. Stuck just a short walk from the East London street where she grew up, ambitious Film Studies lecturer Gemma MacDonald is restless and hungry for change. A job offer in the Highlands seems to offer escape – but only at a cost to her relationships with family and an equally ambitious American boyfriend. Then a lost print of Gemma’s favourite film turns up, and with it, an idea…
Two stories, separated by 45 years, are set on collision course – on the surface of Loch Ness, under the shadow of a castle – by the reappearance of the continuity girl herself: April Bloom.”
Today is my turn on the blog tour for The Continuity Girl by Patrick Kincaid. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for my place on the tour and to Unbound and the author for my copy of the book which, I have reviewed honestly and impartially.
I knew I was going to adore this book the minute I saw the cover and read the blurb because everything about it just appeals to that side of me that loves a quirky, off-beat story and unusual characters. So I was preparing myself for disappointment, as I had such high hopes, but I need not have bothered; this book fulfilled all that it promised and more.
The plot essentially covers two stories, set 45 years apart, that ultimately converge in one of those unlikely acts of serendipity which we all wish would happen to us in real life when we see them as plot devices in novels. The central characters are two strong, individual women struggling to make the right decisions for their future, and one traditional, uptight and confused young man torn between what he knows and is used to, and what is being offered to him by a more liberal and open society and a chance meeting with a beautiful and liberated young American.
There is so much to draw the reader in in this book. Let’s start with the plot. In London in 2014, a lecturer in Film Studies is excited to be involved in the discovery and restoration of the lost scenes from Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, her favourite movie, at the same time as wrestling with a decision about her future which forces her to choose between what she feels she ought to do to please other people and what she really wants for herself. At the same time, we are taken back to the filming of the same movie at Loch Ness in 1969, when Jim Outhwaite, a marine biologist involved with studying the phenomena in Loch Ness, becomes entangled with the film crew in a way he neither wanted nor expected and which forces him to make tough choices about his own future in a world that is on the cusp of change, that change comforting him in the very realm form of the film’s Californian continuity girl, April Bloom.
I had not heard of this film before I picked up the book but I did do a little background research before I started it, as the book is based firmly on real events and people, obviously with a little poetic licence thrown in. It is one of those tales where fact is stranger than fiction and I was completely captivated by the story of the making of the film and the events in Scotland and how the author has cleverly woven them in to a charming, eccentric and humorous story which really bring the events to life and take us to the heart of them. There are some really funny moments (when they take the model monster out on to the loch for the first time being my favourite) and some poignant ones, it is a really lovely balance for the reader and it made me really keen to find out which events and characters were real and which were not, as the author joins them so seamlessly, it is impossible to tell from the narrative.
Next are the characters, and they are genuinely fabulous. Really well drawn and totally alive within the pages, I was with them from the beginning. Jim, the uptight male scientist back in 1969, was my particular favourite. He starts out so po-faced and stodgy that you wonder why April is attracted to him in the first place but a different side of him emerges as he blossoms under April’s friendship but you can still see the very real tussle going on internally between what he wants and his fear of the unknown. In fact, all the characters’ internal conflicts are so believable that they really worm their way under your skin until your heart is breaking along with their or you feel their elation. This is all I ever ask from a book but it is very hard to achieve and the author has done a masterful job here.
The setting itself is one of the highlights of the book. I am very familiar with the Scottish Highlands and Loch Ness and the author really captured the essence of it here, so it was a lovely way to revisit a beloved location. The disjointed feeling caused by the placing of a glamorous film crew in this remote location cleverly mirrors the disruption that the exotic and free-thinking April causes in Jim’s ordered existence and the ripples of this are then felt all the way through to the modern day with Gemma’s ambiguous attitude towards the remastering of her beloved movie along with everything happening in her private life. The theme of impermanence runs strongly through the book, the need to embrace change to grow as individuals and the constant contradictions within all of us which cause us so much angst are considered and really give the book a depth and relevance that endeared it to me even more, and this is mirrored in the landscape itself and its inhabitants and how all are forced to change and adapt over the years to survive. There is also a lot of emphasis on lack of communication and the pain and misunderstanding that arises when people don’t talk to each other honestly and instead allow incorrect assumptions to decide their fate. This is a theme to which we can all relate I am sure.
This book is a gentle story, beautifully written with warm but complex characters, rich themes, enticing plot, gorgeously-drawn landscapes and oodles of delights to draw you in. Any book containing a pet pine marten named Autolycus has to be worth a read, surely. I loved it and it will definitely find a permanent place in my library to be revisited in future. I’m not lending you my copy though, because it’s signed so you’ll have to get your own.
Unbound has produced some really original and fascinating books so far and they are fast becoming one of my favourite publishers for stories that draw you in, make you think and offer you something extraordinary and I consider myself very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to review for them this year. Long may it continue.
The Continuity Girl is out now and you can acquire a copy here.
Make sure you check out the rest of the posts on the tour by following the blog listed below:
About the Author
Like April in the novel, Patrick is an Anglo-American. He was born to an English mother in Amarillo, Texas, but moved to the UK when his American father was stationed in Oxfordshire with the USAF in the mid-1970s. Unlike his older brother, Patrick was sent to a local rather than a base school, and very quickly went native. He eventually gained a PhD in English Literature at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon. For the past 14 years, he has taught English to secondary school children in an inner-city comprehensive in Coventry.
Long a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, Patrick contributed one of his own, ‘The Doll and His Maker’, to MX Publishing’s SHERLOCK’S HOME: THE EMPTY HOUSE, an anthology of pastiches put together to raise funds for the preservation of one of the author’s former homes. As well as writing fiction, Patrick is a keen poet. He was short-listed for the Bridport Poetry Prize in 2012 and long-listed for the Fish Poetry Prize in 2013.
Connect with Patrick:
Facebook: Patrick Kincaid
Goodreads: Patrick Kincaid