CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 30. . . .April 8, 2016
Isabelle and Beatrice are twins born near Lethbridge, AB, in 1913. Only a few years later, in 1926, their life has changed dramatically. Both of their parents have died, their home has burned to the ground, and the girls are in Santa Monica, CA, living as the wards of Mr. Cecil, an up-and-coming director of movies, or flickers as they were known at the time. Although they are twins, the two girls couldn’t be more different. Isabelle is pretty and has become a film star thanks to Mr. Cecil’s tutelage. She has only starred in silent films to date, but she is soon to have a role in the very first talking picture to hit movie screens. Her biggest asset is a piercing and powerful scream – and soon it will actually be heard by theatre audiences. Beatrice, on the other hand, was badly scarred as a baby and spends her time in seclusion at the Cecil estate, absorbed in science books and an insect collection and not being included in any of the Hollywood activities. This gives her time to think, and more and more she begins to wonder about what happened to her and her twin as infants and the role Mr. Cecil has played in their lives and in various other disturbing coincidences at the estate in Santa Monica. He isn’t always the caring guardian he portrays, and his upcoming movie begins to take on a chilling, even evil, quality which Beatrice senses but cannot quite explain.
Arthur Slade has written yet another amazing book for young adult readers which touches on both history and horror and which is filled with enough twists and turns to keep readers on the edge of their seats until the chilling climax of the story. The twin girls are portrayed in great detail and seem to exist beyond the pages of the novel. Isabelle is pretty and talented and thoroughly caught up in the glamour and excitement that is Hollywood. She appears to take events and people at face value without delving too deeply into anything devious or cunning which may lie below the make-up and costumes, i.e. the facade. She is likable, however; devoted to her work for Mr. Cecil and on some deeper level truly connected to her twin sister.
Beatrice is anything but the Cinderella character portrayed by her sister. She has been literally and figuratively scarred by events in her early childhood and appears not to need or want the limelight. Content with her studies and her insects, she devotes herself to science, and this need to understand what is around her leads her to be both intelligent and questioning, unwilling to accept simplistic explanations for things which puzzle her. As the story evolves, Beatrice wonders more and more about what happened to her parents and what happened to various people who have been seen on Mr. Cecil’s estate, never to reappear. Her curiosity eventually takes her into forbidden territory – Mr. Cecil’s small home. What she finds there both terrifies her and motivates her to action.
Slade is a master of suspense, and readers know almost from the beginning that there is something odd about Mr. Cecil and the movie industry he represents, and the unravelling of the mystery is gradual yet relentless. Just as movies encourage the audience to use their imaginations and enter worlds which may seem real but are anything but, Slade shows his readers the fine line between day-to-day reality we expect and other worlds which may be adjacent to ours and yet which hold entirely different realities. What we see on a movie screen is not real but invites us to enter into this unreal world and become a part of it. The horror aspect of the novel comes into play when Mr. Cecil forces the twins to enter into an unreal world of his own making, lurking just behind the movie screen of reality. Slade bends reality and bends imagination in a frightening manner which makes this story both chilling and irresistible.
Young readers will appreciate the setting and glamour of the early days of Hollywood and a brief introduction into the making of films in the early 20th century as they follow Isabelle to the theatre and watch crowds of her admirers reminiscent of the scenes at present-day Oscar award ceremonies. But Slade is able to weave in the darker threads which accompany stardom and, in Mr. Cecil, personifies the greed and manipulation which can “eat up” unsuspecting artists. In Flickers, Slade plays on our imaginations and our fears, and the result is a brilliant ride through both motion pictures and our own minds.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any
other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.