Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Happy Little Bluebirds by Louise Levene // Book Review 2018


"I'd no idea anyone actually spoke Polish,' the girl was saying. 'Apart from Poles, obviously'. The customs chap looked awfully surprised. 'Whatever on earth made you learn?' She didn't stay for an answer but began shoving her bags alongside Evelyn in the back of the waiting car. 'Budge up'. Evelyn edged along the wide seat and the girl closed the door and leaned forward to instruct the uniformed driver who was wiping his mouth on his handkerchief as he wedged the pungent remains of a sandwich into the glove compartment...."




Happy Little Bluebirds by Louise Levene // Some of my favourite movies are from the 1930s and 40s, so when I was given a copy of Happy Little Bluebirds by Louise Levene, I just knew I was in for a treat! If you know The Wizard of Oz, then the title tells you something - it’s a line from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - and exactly matches the surreal leap of our protagonist, Mrs Evelyn Murdoch, a 26-year old war widow from Woking who, in 1940 due to her amazing ability to learn languages - she speaks nine - gets recruited by British intelligence. Like a fairy tale, she finds herself escaping the horrors of war-torn London for a bizarre job ‘assisting’ a Hungarian director in a Hollywood film studio - seems an unlikely scenario but the author explains that it was actually based on truth... As it turns out, Los Angeles is a fairly lukewarm hotbed of nazi spies - there are two very obvious and inefficient ones - and Evelyn can just relax and enjoy the thrilling theatre and fakery of the Hollywood movie industry.

The story opens with Evelyn’s arrival in New York, just off the Lisbon boat, to be met by her contact, Gerista Broome. This causes a mild panic because it was assumed that the expert linguist was a man - Evelyn can be a man’s name as well - and Gerista has to make a hurried shopping spree to get suitable classy American clothes for her new recruit. Evelyn’s dowdy appearance makes her look twenty years older, what with her grey suit, dull hat, brogues, plain hairstyle and decidedly “iffy” body odour, this would mark her out as ‘foreign’ and blow her cover and so begins the transformation into something a bit more stylish. The author describes this in a wonderfully funny and satirical style - my favourite of many classic one-liners is ‘Gerista was wearing enough perfume to fumigate a church jumble sale’ - and the initially reluctant Evelyn with her Methodist background and an exceedingly prim dentist husband - she had to live with his puritanical mother after getting married - gradually comes to embrace the luxury life and the amazing beauty parlours of New York!




Suitably attired and made up, she then makes her momentous journey to California by rail in a first-class Pullman carriage which is wonderfully described - just like in the movies - but Evelyn arrives at Hollywood to find her boss has scooted off to the Bahamas on important secret business, and she is left pretending to be a voice coach at the film studio, with hilarious results. She continues to be invited to endless parties with all the witty repartee and humour - think Groucho Marx - which makes for a hugely entertaining read! The espionage theme slowly slides away and we follow Evelyn around her Bel Air pool-house and dreamlike world, picking up a couple of love interests along the way, until her fairytale is shattered with the arrival of  disturbing ‘news’ from Blighty...


It seems that she will have to click her heels like Dorothy and get herself ‘home’ but she’d much rather stay, having got used to the opulence and likeable roguery of the Hollywood scene - how easily one can be seduced by the dream! Will things go awry for Evelyn? You’ll have to read it and find out...! ;-)

Throughout the book, the author sprinkles in several references and allusions to movies and film stars to make this book a film lover’s delight - I would thoroughly encourage you to sit back, relax and enjoy the show!


More soon,

Helen
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2 comments

  1. I love to come here and discover new books xx

    https://ineedfiveminutes.blogspot.com.es

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  2. The book sounds lovely, will definitely consider having a read through it.

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Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment, I really appreciate it! Helen x

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