Book of the Month December 2020 - Divas, Dogs and Dreamers


Sophie Wilde is a part-time wardrobe mistress in the West End, also working as a cycle courier to earn extra cash to afford her life in London. She's short on it though, and short on direction, and suddenly short on free movement after a collision with a rich and prolific West End producer on Shaftesbury Avenue. She was avoiding a stray dog in the road, and he was certain he was not the culprit in her injuries. Still, he takes her himself to a top private hospital, and ensures both she and her bike get home safely; he also makes sure the dog makes it to a shelter. The problem is that producer, the mysterious and broody Alex Brooke, seems to keep turning up at the most inconvenient moments in Sophie's life. Is Alex Brooke just worried about injury compensation, or is there something more compelling in the reason for taking interest in Sophie and her unfortunate issues?


I am a romantic at heart, even if it's not the heart-on-sleeve-type, and always enjoy a bit of emotional turmoil, so I enjoyed the story, and read it swiftly, wanting to see its culmination. I enjoyed the setting, the West End and its grand separation of stars and backstage, and also the utter annoyance of the new production's darling, Callandra Jewell (with a name like that you're gonna be a troublemaker, right?); equally as burdened in alcoholism as she is in talent. After the unfortunate collision, Alex takes it upon himself to ensure Sophie is looked after and, additionally, provides her with tickets to the royal Gala of his newest show. On top of that he invites her to become the "companion" of his troubled star, due to her experience with alcoholism through her ex-boyfriend, and thus Sophie is embroiled in the confusing world of front-line theatre, where headlines are created out of nothing, and rumours, out of less, and she is the focus of Callandra's spiteful jealousy.

Sophie is overburdened with not only her injuries, but her large family, her alcoholic ex-boyfriend and the common uninvited appearances of Alex. She's straightforward, and somewhat stubborn, but loves what she does and loves the theatre. She's one of the backstage lot, though, and that particular group is known for its gossip, something not appreciated by the hot shot producer. I liked her character, but I think the problem for me was that we didn't get to see much of Sophie working with her passion. One of the primary reasons she works in wardrobe is her love of costume, and she has a dream of pursuing design, but there's nothing really apart from her saying it, that she has this passion. Where are her various sewing machines, her many draper's shears, her dress forms, her hundreds of threads, piles of fabric, hangers of self-designed samples? She is side-lined for some time with her injuries, that's fair enough, but I'd be back on my sewing machine pronto as soon as my arms were both in working order. We see much of Alex's home life, and also venture into his world through her eyes, but little else of her dream manifesting at home, which is a core part of her character. Having the sewing bug myself I am positive she would make room, and find the money, for her passion no matter how small her flat and limited her budget, and I would have enjoyed seeing that side of her life and, of course, the reaction of her brooding producer.


Comparatively, Alex lives a much more privileged life, at least superficially. The contrast between Sophie's excessive life interruptions from various other people and his more modest set of close friends, balanced out their very different homes and support circles nicely, as did her nervousness and marginal discomfort taking her turn on the spotlight side of her career, at his behest. I didn't quite feel he suffered much from the apparent gossip train that is backstage, it never really came up except occasionally, which made the lead up to the finale where the mainstream media get ever-ignorantly involved in particular affairs, fall a little flat. He tended to handle everything with a duck's back and water kind of attitude. He also never really came across as a gropey predator boss, out to dishevel and deflower young wardrobe mistresses, and Sophie never spoke of actually knowing anyone directly who had ever been seduced by him (that I recall). I pretty much liked him throughout, and so Sophie's reactions later in the story towards a certain incident didn't feel quite right to me, especially believing Callandra and not taking a step back and assessing whether the diva alcoholic actress might just be spreading severe defecation and the press might be morons.


On the whole, though, the story was satisfying, the ending particluarly adorable, and it was a nice handful of hours away from dark materials and even darker real life in joyous modern times. I thought the addition of Sophie's sister and ex finding a common ground a nice peripheral, and the fact there were some darker themes within - strangely I quite like dark themes in romance... The setting was fun, but missed a trick I think in really delving into the backstage world of theatre's unsung heroes, instead focussing on the tricky diva and her attempted lion tamers. Certainly an author I will read again in the future.


Find Anita Belli on Goodreads and buy Divas, Dogs and Dreamers on Amazon.


-JOT

Loyal Lyre
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