I’m delighted to be featuring ‘The Continuity Girl’ by Patrick Kincaid today as part of the book’s blog tour. This novel is sparkly, sophisticated and impossible to put down.
1969. Hollywood descends on a tiny Scottish village for the making of Billy Wilder’s most ambitious picture yet: a sprawling epic detailing The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. But the formidable director and his crew soon come into conflict with Jim Outhwaite, a young scientist seeking evidence for monsters.
2014. Stuck just a short walk from the East London street where she grew up, ambitious Film Studies lecturer Gemma MacDonald is restless and hungry for change. A job offer in the Highlands seems to offer escape – but only at a cost to her relationships with family and an equally ambitious American boyfriend. Then a lost print of Gemma’s favourite film turns up, and with it, an idea… Two stories, separated by 45 years, are set on collision course – on the surface of Loch Ness, under the shadow of a castle – by the reappearance of the continuity girl herself: April Bloom.
Two worlds collide in this novel in a number of ways. Firstly, in the form of academia and the film industry, and two timelines run throughout, not quite in parallel as there are links between the two. Yet another contrasting pair is found in how fact and fiction interweave throughout the story and occasionally crash headlong into each other. Let’s not forget our main hero Jim and heroine Gemma who don’t have the smoothest relationships with their respective partners. We see a contrast between grey, crowded London and the beauty of the Scottish highlands. The prehistoric Loch Ness monster is having quite an impact on twentieth-century life, and finally the moon, shining down on the earth, has a part to play too.
In the modern day timeline of 2013/14, lecturer Gemma McDonald has stumbled across some reels from Billy Wilder’s film ‘The Secret Life of Sherlock Holmes’. She’s also applied for a job in the film studies department at the University of Aberdeen. She can’t quite find the right time to tell her boyfriend David, who has just accepted a post in Chicago. In the 1969 thread, Jim and the others in the Loch Ness Research Group have their ordered, focussed existence overturned when the camera crew, actors and support staff, including the all-important continuity girl April, turn up to film the relevant parts of the film. True to her name, April brings continuity not only to the film script, but also to the novel as she turns up in both timelines. There’s a backing cast of fascinating personalities too.
You don’t need to be a film buff or an obsessive Nessie fan to enjoy this novel, since we’re told all we need to know about these key features of the story. However, if you can be bothered to spend a little time on Wikipedia reading up about Billy Wilder and his films, and about Loch Ness and its famous purported inhabitant, you can appreciate more fully just how much research has gone into this novel. The author’s hard work adds extra depth and sparkle. There’s no info dumping, just a richer text as a result. For readers like me who were there in 1969 the mention of Golden Wonder crisps, and the descriptions of the clothes people are wearing and the music they are listening to is a lovely trip down memory lane, not to mention the overawing excitement of huddling around someone else’s TV to watch those grainy black and white pictures of Neil Armstrong taking his giant leap on behalf of mankind.
This is a delightfully different and thoroughly enjoyable novel about discovery, friendships and love, about following your dream, about how life can be unfair and force choices on you that you don’t want to make. But happy endings take many forms and ultimately, I think, the book is a celebration of being true to yourself and doing what you have to do. And that is a pretty major achievement.
• Paperback: 224 pages
• Publisher: Unbound Digital (9 Mar. 2018)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 191158698X
• ISBN-13: 978-1911586982
About the author
Like April in the novel, Patrick is an Anglo-American. He was born to an English mother in Amarillo, Texas, but moved to the UK when his American father was stationed in Oxfordshire with the USAF in the mid-1970s. Unlike his older brother, Patrick was sent to a local rather than a base school, and very quickly went native. He eventually gained a PhD in English Literature at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon. For the past 14 years, he has taught English to secondary school children in an inner-city comprehensive in Coventry.
Long a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, Patrick contributed one of his own, ‘The Doll and His Maker’, to MX Publishing’s SHERLOCK’S HOME: THE EMPTY HOUSE, an anthology of pastiches put together to raise funds for the preservation of one of the author’s former homes. As well as writing fiction, Patrick is a keen poet. He was short-listed for the Bridport Poetry Prize in 2012 and long-listed for the Fish Poetry Prize in 2013.