I have to say just from the cover I wasn’t sure what I was going to make of this novel. It looked like it might be a bit ‘chick-lit’ not that there is anything wrong with that by the way, just that it isn’t really my general cup of tea. I was actually sent this book ages and ages ago buy the lovely people at John Murray and despite a phone call raving about it from one of their delightful team I was still suspicious. It went to the bottom of the TBR I am ashamed to admit. However it has been this weeks Richard and Judy choice and as I am doing the challenge I picked it up, dusted it off and tried it out. I absolutely loved it.
Lilly Nelly Aphrodite is born just before midnight on December the 31st 1899; however she doesn’t actually take her first breath until one minute past twelve taking her first breath in the first minute of the twentieth century. Instantly you know that Lilly isn’t going to be your typical child and as a baby with her extremely vocal lungs she proves her point further. Things don’t start well for Lilly as within months her mother, a cabaret singer, is killed under scandalous circumstances. We then follow Lilly as she goes through her childhood as an orphan to becoming a major German movie star.
Now if your like me that final line would have made you think ‘chick-lit’ however with the background being Berlin and the timescale of the novel being from the start of the 1900’s until the mid 1940’s what you as the reader witness is war torn Germany… twice. Lilly is a wonderful set of eyes through this period as she has no real political streak, her only actual desire is to survive and through this you are given an insight (very realistically) into what life might have been like through such a horrific period in history for the general/poor public of Berlin. That isn’t the only historical facts that Colin focuses on, there is also the heyday of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hollywood and its golden era. How she manages to make all this work is quite a feat but it does.
Lilly is a wonderful character. She rightly steals the show… well book as she is witty, manipulative, wily, funny, naughty, kind and incredibly strong. Though she goes through endless turmoil she doesn’t wallow in self pity, well only occasionally, and instead she fights resolutely and carries one. Naturally she is flawed and makes several mistakes along the way but all in all you can’t help to admire her and like her, maybe a little less towards the end, but I don’t want to give anything away.
If Lilly isn’t enough I have to praise the characters that come and go, and come back. Eva is a wonderful character though in the end completely dislikeable you want to read more and more about her, especially the more conniving and bitter she gets. Hanne however almost steals the whole story from Lilly; she is a wonderful character a fighter like Lilly only much harder and much darker with a real self destructive streak. In fact it’s the women all in all that shine and take the main roles in this novel. Though not in the forefront of the novel the men are all there and very complete characters, in fact sometimes Colin does a wonderful trick of having a character say one line and then following it with what happened to that one small character in the rest of his life in the next single sentence.
It was in fact this quality that made me think of great authors like Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Mary Elisabeth Braddon etc. In fact in many ways some of this novel reminded me of books like Moll Flanders or Tess of the D’Urbervilles in the fact that every character no matter how small has their part to play and their story to tell no matter how big or minor their role was in the general tale. The only other two authors I can think of that do that now are Sarah Waters and Jane Harris and if you like any of their work then you are sure to absolutely love this.
As you can tell overall this for me was an absolutely marvellous book. The setting richly painted like the make up on many of the wonderful characters faces. I simply cannot find a fault with this book and think its one that many, many people will be getting copies of for birthdays and one that I can’t wait to re-read and take it in all over again…Though with my TBR that may not be for some time.