Sunday, 13 December 2009

The Sunday Read: The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite

Sunday Read for this week: The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite (Beatrice Colin).

This is an amazing book, and has recently seemed to gain a huge amount of accolade. I'd love to say that this is what drove me to read it, but in actual fact, I just picked this up in a bookshop on a whim. During the summer, I had a long commute to work of two hours each way, and I ended up reading every book I owned. I found myself with all of about five minutes in a bookshop before my train was due, so I quickly read the blurb, thought it sounded readable, and away I went with my shiny new copy of The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite.

Good thing I did! It turned out to be a fantastic read; one of those books that transported me away from my dull packed train to the seemingly wonderful yet depressing world of Berlin at the turn of the century.

The novel follows the ever-changing life of Lilly Aphrodite (such a wonderful name for a heroine), complexly juxtaposing desperation and poverty with glamour and fame. Although a work of fiction, the book is nonetheless historically realistic and offers the reader a highly plausible insight into the capital of Germany under the Weimar Republic. It was, by all accounts, a time of extreme hardship, which to the author's credit, Lilly's life reflects - she is raised in an orphanage, raped by wealthy employers, and spends much of the novel surviving on next to no food. While this admittedly could have made for a rather dreary read (indeed, at times it's hard not to feel quite depressed by the girl's desperate situation), the author offers the reader some light relief in its uplifting focus on Lilly's career, as she emerges as a glamorous and successful black and white film actress. Ultimately, it is with this increasing portrayal of her infamy in society that the novel begins to lose its sense of realism and probably its high level of impact upon the reader, but all in all this story offers a powerful message about growing up in a time and place which seems to be all too often overlooked in literature. Lilly grows up in desperately hard circumstances, and her story is predominantly one of extreme suffering, mixed with a passionate yet ultimately failing romance, and rather a lot of glitz and glamour. Beautifully written, this is really one of those books that you just need to read.

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