This novel tells the story of three sisters making their way in vaudeville in Canada in the early 1900s. Aurora, Clover and Bella, together with their widowed and fragile mother Flora, go from theatre to theatre, sometimes headlining, sometimes opening the show and experiencing the various ups and downs of vaudeville and life in general.
The book covers the period from shortly before the outbreak of World War I, to shortly before the end of that war. As the family move from across the country, they each experience love and heartbreak and end up growing up in their own individual ways.
It is very clear that the author has extensively researched her subject and there are some real life characters included, although most are fictional but based on real life (for example, one character is based on Buster Keaton and his family). It made for an interesting and informative read, and I do feel that it gave a lot of insight into what is essentially an unstable profession. What I liked about the sisters was their very believable love and support for each other – each had their own talent and personality and they all complemented each other.
While overall I enjoyed this book, I would say I liked it rather than loved it. I would recommend it, but with some hesitation as I feel that if historical fiction is not a genre you would normally enjoy, this is not a book which is going to change your mind.
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You’ve probably seen Nina Conti on television (f you haven’t, get yourself over to YouTube right now and see what you’ve been missing). She is a very funny ventriloquist whose main (but not only) puppet is the foul mouthed monkey. Monkey was in fact the only puppet she used during this show, unless you count the various members of the audience who she got up on stage and used as life-size puppets, complete with facial masks.
At the top of the show, Nina told the audience that every performance is 90% improvised, and you soon realise that this must be correct, as every audience is different and therefore each night there will be a whole new source of characters. On this particular night, she had a couple who were out with their friend for her birthday on stage, a risk assessor for an insurance company and a Paramedic. Her reaction times to these people are quick and usually hilarious as she makes up the script for them as she goes along, and to be fair they all joined in good-naturedly.
For me however, the funniest parts of an altogether extremely funny performance were when she had Monkey on stage with her…especially when Monkey hosts a Q&A with the audience while Nina herself is in a black bag, and he then fills her in on what was said by the audience.
Overall, this was a hugely enjoyable evening packed with laughter! Judging by the faces of the rest of the audience as people filed out afterwards, this performance was a great success and I would definitely recommend catching a Nina Conti show live if you get the chance.
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