When journalist Ed Peters unearths a dusty old photograph of the silent film actress Leda Grey, he is insanely enchanted by her alluring beauty.
He discovers she is still living, in a decaying cliff-top house. And there, after a fifty year silence, she is finally ready to share her haunting story.
She tells of a volatile love affair, of obsession and jealousy, and the darkly glamorous world of early cinema.
She tells of a world filled with secrets and lies, and a past more sinister than any of the silent films that Leda Grey once starred in.
The Last Days of Leda Grey is a beautiful book that has mystery, romance and almost a supernatural air in parts. The book starts in 1976, with Ed Peters finding a photograph of the beautiful Leda Grey which starts his journey of finding out more about this mysterious actress. A lot of the plot though is based in the early years of the twentieth century, and the world of the magical silent movies, which we see through the eyes of Leda herself, in her ‘Mirrors’, refections on her past.
Essie Fox’s writing style is more like the writing we expect to read from the Edwardian period, in which this book is set. She writes with such detail, her descriptions vivid and meticulous; both in respect to the characters and setting. The detail on the making of silent films is wonderful and obviously well researched; all the technical and artistic detail bring it to life and captures the readers imagination.
As a character, Leda is intriguing and has an ethereal quality to her, both in the past and the present. She reminds me of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations in respect of her never leaving White-Cliff House, and her living in the past, and also of Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard in her reminisces to Ed of the films, and her youth. Ed, the other main character is also clinging to the past in some way, he has spent ten years carrying around the ashes of his mother who died when he was sixteen; he finds it hard to let go of the past as does Leda. There is a great cast of supporting characters; the obsessive and controlling Charles Beauvois, the director of the silent films and subsequently Leda’s lover; Leda’s older brother Theo, artistic and very beautiful; Ivor Davies, a young Shakespearian actor who is in love with Leda; and a cast of colourful extras.
There is a haunting and ethereal quality to this book, both in character and plot. In the present White-Cliff House has a sense of otherness about it, it is like a time capsule where time stands still, as does Leda who lives there. Leda doesn’t see the decay around her, where as Ed sees this but also has visions of the house and its inhabitants from the past, as if he was there with Leda and Charles, even feeling Charles inhabit his body some point; the past and present converging. Mystery and secrets, waiting to be told add a sense of suspense to the narrative, just what happened all those years ago, and why did Leda become a recluse?
The Last Days of Leda Grey is an enchanting novel, full of mystery, suspense, obsession and wonderful characters. It truly is a beautiful read,this is not a book to read quickly, like a good wine you need to take your time and savour the flavour to fully appreciate it and all the work that has gone into creating it.