The greatest pleasure in reading, especially in reading fiction, is the ability to visit places and times to which you could otherwise never have access. This, I think, is a big part of the impulse behind historical fiction: most of us want to visit the past, but you just can’t book a flight there. Unless you pick up a book like The Little Shadows, which takes a tiny, intimate part of the past and illuminates it so vividly you feel like you’ve been there.
The novel is set in the early 20th century, in the small world of vaudeville theatres in the western part of both Canada and the U.S. Aurora, Bella and Clover, along with their mother who was herself a vaudeville artist in her day, travel from one theatre to another with their singing sister act, trying to find a steady gig that will pay the bills. Along the way, the three teenaged girls fall in love, grow up, and find their own places in the spotlight. It’s a coming of age tale, but one that derives its unique pleasure from so brilliantly recreating a lost world.
In the heyday of vaudeville, just as now, ambitious actors and singers who wanted to make a steady living had to work ridiculous hours, take any gig offered, and constantly walk the fine line between respectable and non-respectable work. These struggles are sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, and always believable, as they’re portrayed in the pages of The Little Shadows. Against the background of a world rapidly changing and plunging headlong into the madness of the First World War, the vaudeville subculture, and the characters trying to make their way in it, emerge fully realized in this book, a world you can step into and in which you can, for a little while, lose yourself.