Book Review: Curtain Call by Anthony Quinn
I read this for book group. It was chosen off The Telegraph’s ‘Best Books of 2015’ List. Not one I would have chosen myself necessarily – which is quite the point of a book group. I of course like historicals but I do really find the 30’s era that interesting – hmm – I’m not sure what it is about this era I do not like. I don’t like posh people of the 1930’s although I do like their use of the word ghastly which I don’t think came up enough in this book at all. Historically, it should be fairly interesting.
Curtain Call starts off with Nina Land, who inadvertently interrupts an attempted murder in a hotel – saving the girl but of course putting herself in a but of a conundrum – because she is in fact at the hotel with a married man.
The story is not a murder mystery as I first assumed – but a literary ensemble piece about a bunch of characters that are linked (very loosely sometimes) to the event of the attempted murder. There is Nina Land the theatre actress of course who witnessed it. Her lover – the upcoming portrait artist Stephen Wyley, Jimmy Erksine a theatre critic, his assistant Tom and the girl who got away – Madeline.
The problem this book has is that it felt empty. The writing is okay and easy to read and the best I can say about the story is that it wasn’t boring. Had it not been a book group read, I probably wouldn’t have given it the time of day. It hasn’t added anything, or given me anything to really think about or feel about – it wasn’t even fun. It was just easy enough to finish and it didn’t bore me enough to make me put it down.
None of the characters were that interesting and they all felt a little generic – the kind you have seen before time and time again particularly in this era. Perhaps he wanted to appeal to the readers of Wodehouse or Forster but unfortunately he doesn’t quite share their literary ability. The story lacked a good atmosphere or that something which makes a book feel unique. It is decorated with assorted references to history – such as Mosely and the black shirts, small references to Hitler and even the burning of the Crystal Palace pops up – but for no real good reason other than to mention it. It is rather as if the author looked through a historical timeline on Wikipedia and decided to add a few things to make the time and setting feel realistic. It is however a rather shallow attempt at anchoring the story into a certain time.
When you read, you build up a library of experience with books and authors. It is hard not to compare standards when reading one book that has certain similarities with another. Before I started the book properly, I was already comparing it to another book I had read which was a historical mystery set in 1934 that included the rise of fascism in the country. This book is Andrew Taylor’s Bleeding Heart Square and it isn’t even what I’d consider his best novel. He is one of my favourite authors for his ability to create atmosphere and an environment you can believe in. He can make you live in a book and breath it.
Anthony Quinn couldn’t do this in Curtain Call. It felt like the 1930s, but then it is quite an iconic era and if you’ve watched a bit of Jeeves and Wooster or even Downton Abbey it isn’t that hard to place yourself there. He was not able to create the 1930s in a natural way. He could not create his own atmosphere. The story was weak. The characters were limp.
Is it worthy of being on a list entitled ‘Best Books of 2015’? No. The book is mediocre. I don’t put a great deal of stock in lists anyway, but I do roll my eyes at them.
I have been fairly critical of a book I’ve given three stars on Goodreads. Overall I’d say ‘meh’ to this book and move on. It isn’t terrible. It isn’t boring. It’s okay.