Nehme, author of the acclaimed classic film blog Self-Styled Siren, has written a novel. Drawing on her extensive and joyful knowledge of old Hollywood, and her actual time living in NYC in the 1980s, she created a naive but likeable protagonist in Ceinwen Reilly. Somewhat predictably, Ceinwen works at a vintage clothing shop and shares a small apartment in Alphabet City with two roommates. Her lifestyle is Ramen-level, though she aspires to something more glamorous.
She thaws the frosty exterior of her elderly neighbor. She learns the woman was a silent film actress who never made it, but worked as a seamstress on the back lot of MGM. The one film she starred in has been lost for more than 60 years.
Ceinwen, a classic film buff, decides to search for the lost film, The Mysteries of Udolpho, based on the book of the same name by Horace Walpole. She enlists the help of her on-again-off-again boyfriend, her roommates, and other film historians to find ancient nitrate reels and bring the film to a screen.
Ceinwen knew her cues by heart. She said goodbye and grabbed her things. At the door, she turned to look. Miriam was watching the dryer with a face like Garbo at the end of “Queen Christina,” staring off into space. ~Pg. 163
It’s clear that Nehme sees a good deal of herself in Ceinwen. Her enthusiasm and granular knowledge of old movies is analogous to her heroine’s. She seems genuinely excited to show friends her favorite films, to get them hooked on the classics too. She also comes through as wistful. She misses the days of ramshackle apartment living, when the discovery of a lost film and a silent movie actress is something she might have accomplished.
The plot is cheerful but not particularly gripping. The reader bounces along with Ceinwen as she makes each foray into the research. Try this book for a light romp with a dash of romantic comedy, from a bright voice in film literature.
Thank to the folks at Overlook Press for the review copy.
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Overlook Hardcover (November 12, 2014)
Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches