I received an advance review copy of The Last Days of Leda Grey from Netgalley and Orion in return for a full and honest review. Which leaves me with a conundrum – How do I start to review this book?
One thing I already know about Essie Fox from previous novels is that she has a unique way of describing scenes and situations that immerse you completely into her exquisite stories – quite akin to lowering yourself into a steaming hot bath. You know it’s probably going to rob you of all your sensibilities for the foreseeable future, but you know it’s going to be so good that you won’t care. The Last Days of Leda Grey is no exception. Once you’re in, you’re in and you won’t want to come out of the world she has created without reaching the conclusion. I devoured this book in two sittings.
The story centres around Ed, a journalist who, during the long hot summer of 1976, happens across an intriguing photograph in a junk shop in Brightland. Finding himself enchanted by the beautiful young actress in the photograph, and after chatting to the shop owner, he sets out find out what became of her.
Enter Leda Grey. Or rather, enter Ed into Leda’s home – a house atop a cliff that is literally, bit by bit, tumbling into the sea. He finds Leda old but still emphatically wanting to tell her story. And what a story she has to tell.
Throughout the course of his interviews and screenings, Ed finds more than he expected. He becomes familiar with her family history, her relationship with the wildly talented, but disturbed filmmaker Charles Beauvois and her mesmerising beauty in front of the camera, and through doing so, becomes completely immersed in Leda’s world, desperate to find out the correlation between the woman he sees in front of him and the actress in the silent films she shows him.
Elements of the distant past merge with Ed’s reality as he unveils a shocking and upsetting series of events, which he must pursue if he is to discover the truth – How did this beautiful girl with stars in her eyes and the world at her feet end up a tragic shadow of her former self, shuttered in a cliff top prison?
Ed is determined to find out, but will the answers he find be what he was hoping for?
This is a wonderfully atmospheric book from a writer who really knows her subject and knows how to make it come alive.