I am a miserable stranger
In Beatrice Hitchman’s debut novel, readers are transported to 1913 Paris – a time where fashion, film, and art flourished and all the world was a stage. For 17-year-old Adele, Paris is a place for opportunities and new beginnings. As a seamstress to the stars, Adele is always close to glitz, glamour and fame, but never in the spotlight. But when she begins an affair with married silent film producer André, her circumstances abruptly change, and Adele is promoted to the role of assistant to André’s beautiful and famous wife, Terpsichore.
While their relationship is awkward at first, Adele slowly shifts her loyalty from André to Terpsichore. She spends her days wandering their mansion, tending to Terpsichore’s correspondences, and attending parties alongside her mistress. Over time, Adele and Terpsichore develop a complicated friendship that evolves into a romantic infatuation. But even though Paris is a progressive city, reputation, money, and social status are more valued than romance, so Adele and Terpsichore must keep their affair a secret.
In the meantime, production has begun for an innovative film called Petite Mort, which features groundbreaking cinematography and a controversial plot-line. As the producers search for the perfect leading lady, tension builds between Adele and Terpsichore, and a secret relationship can only handle so much tension. But before Petite Mort can be debuted, a studio fire destroys the film, and the much-anticipated movie is lost to the world.
Fast forward to more than 50 years later: Juliette, a journalist, discovers a previously unknown copy of the film – perfectly preserved except for one missing scene. As Juliette tries to piece together the mystery of the film, she interviews Adele and slowly uncovers a truth more shocking than she ever imagined.
While fans of historical fiction will surely find Petite Mort to be a fascinating portrayal of the Parisian silent film era, the overarching mystery is not quite as satisfying as I’d hoped. The “plot twist” that the book promises is somewhat predictable, but don’t let that deter you from enjoying such a curious and charming novel filled with glamorous and sensual characters. Between Parisian elite, French cinema stars, prostitutes, servants, and seamstresses, Petite Mort does not lack for for a phenomenal cast.
By Beatrice Hitchman