published 2011 set in 1935
LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
The studio had arranged for the three actresses to be collected from Lantana Drive at 7 o’clock, but Charlotte wasn’t nearly ready to leave and it was well past 6.30. She sat in a slip in front of her dressing-table mirror, applying makeup. She was quiet composed now: she had spent the afternoon considering her options. There had been tears of course, but she had beaten them. Now she was resolute with self-control. Only Allegra had borne witness to her fretful pacing.
Verbena came into the room uninvited and sat down in Charlotte’s bedroom chair. She wore a man’s suit and trilby; her small dark nipples showed through her white silk blouse. She had strung a dozen strands of pearls casually around her neck. Ivy followed her in, dressed in more conventional attire – a low-cut fitted dress in rose satin with short, matching gloves.
observations: Charlotte, Verbena and Ivy are aspiring young actresses in Hollywood in 1935: Allegra is their Mexican maid. They share a house provided by the Warner studios, and they are about to go to a party at Charlie Chaplin’s house. Charlotte may be about to make the breakthrough to stardom in an unlikely-sounding Biblical drama featuring the story of Joshua, the walls of Jericho, and Rahab the whore. But there are events in her past that she really doesn’t want coming out to spoil things. She is ready to fall in love with her co-star, the handsome Liam, but the odds are stacked against her.
I really wanted to like this book: Jamieson’s books are somewhere on a line between crime fiction and straight novels, and I enjoyed her other books, The Golden Door and A Shadow on the Wing. The setup seemed promising, but the trouble was that everything was too gloomy, and it seemed essential that all sex be absolutely horrible, or coercive, or just doomed. I liked the fact that Allegra had her story too, and the attention Jamieson gave to people living in hard times and scrabbling to make a living: the real-life photographer Dorothea Lange, chronicler of the Depression, makes a cameo appearance. The whole novel had some momentum - in fact it was rather noir-ish, and that might recommend it more to some of my blog friends than it does to me.
The Lesbians in the book all dress in men’s clothes, which reminded me of this piece – a short video clip - by my friend the cultural critic June Thomas, explaining why the look may be popular.
The top picture is one I’ve been longing to use on the blog: it is from the German Federal archives, and shows a group of young women getting ready to go out to a dance in 1934 – the other side of the world, in Berlin, but you can see they are sisters under the skin. (The girl on the right looks as though she is checking her smartphone for texts, but I guess it's actually a mirror.)
The other one is a Laura Knight painting called The Dressing Room, and I originally used it to illustrate this entry on The Dud Avocado.