Aurora, Clover and Bella are three sisters performing together on the vaudeville circuit under the scrutiny of their mother, Flora. Flora was a performer herself in her youth and after the deaths of her husband and son, she finds herself desperate for money and takes her daughters on the road. ‘Little Shadows’ follows the family’s endeavours in the vaudeville theatre between 1912 and 1917.
The many minor characters introduced early on were hard to keep track of, and I found this novel very slow, and quite tricky to get into. However, I enjoyed the story more once I’d had a chance to bond with the three girls, and discover more of their individual characters. What I liked about the sisters was their determination and hard work. Although they could sing and dance well, so could many others and they certainly weren’t the most talented of acts. The book is very clear about the hardships of working in the theatre, such as becoming unemployed very suddenly and having to travel long distances for the hope of a job. The troubles of the era are also referred to, with friends leaving to fight in the First World War. Flora had of course experienced theatre life first hand, and is naturally very concerned to spare her daughters from certain aspects of it, and keen to use her knowledge to help them succeed.
The novel is well-written and has great atmosphere. The era and vaudeville theatre are obviously greatly loved by the author, and the amount of detail given is quite astounding. I actually found it a little too much at times, the near constant minutiae meant that the story became bogged down and the pace and characterisation suffered a little. This was certainly a fascinating and original tale, though you have to really love the theatre as much as the author obviously does to full appreciate this book.