Cinema Blue by Sue Rulliére

Synopsis from Publisher:

29-year-old Frankie is scarred by events in her past. Hoping to make a fresh start, she rents a chambre de bonne at the top of an apartment block in Paris. There she meets the mysterious Antoine and is drawn into the murky world he inhabits—a world where nothing is quite as it seems.
Set against the vivid backdrop of Paris and drawing inspiration from the Surrealist movement, Cinema Blue is an intense and disturbing story. It is told from two viewpoints: Frankie, determined to build a new life for herself, and Francesca, the woman her husband insisted she should be. As Frankie struggles to establish her own identity, Francesca haunts her dreams and her waking life.

Review:
‘Unique’ is the first word that springs to mind when I think about this novel. In style, execution, story, characterisation; in every way, unique. ‘Engrossing’ and ‘emotive’ are another two. The story is so absorbing you’ll find yourself trying to slow down in order to savour the beautiful language. You would not think this was a debut novel, so refined and perfectly executed is the narrative – lyrical and powerful but easy to read, containing all the artistry Frankie herself has lost. Don’t be fooled though, it’s no pretty picture we’re painted. Cinema Blue is a dark and often deeply unsettling story about the complex nature of human emotion, attachment, detachment, deception and abuse.

One of the most defining aspects of the novel is the lack of chapters, and division into only three sections. I’m not usually one for books without chapters, but the fragmented collection of events and memories beautifully accentuates the nature of this story – reminiscence and the half-assimilated daily experiences of a tumultuous mind. The writing flows exactly like a thought process without ever being meandering or confusing – it remains lucid – and retains all the gripping mystery and suspense of someone gradually unfolding their story to you.

The other defining aspect is the switch between first and third person, representing the present day Frankie (third person) and her recollection of her past self, Francesca (first person). Personally I found this not only highlighted brilliantly the difference between who Frankie was and who she is now, but also provided access to the tragedies she once suffered, while creating a sense of detachment in association with her current, broken self. This is furthered by her isolation in Paris, a beautifully depicted backdrop which she cannot become a part of. All the life and emotion is gone, the subjective nature of experience given way to an analytic, unfeeling objectivity, stirred only by the mystery of a handsome stranger with an invitation into his surrealist world.

The characters are authentic and accessible – Frankie’s frailty, Antoine’s charm, JP’s intimidation – and even the secondary characters will evoke sympathy if not empathy. The emotions are genuine and the story genuinely moving. The overall ensemble results in a rich, accomplished and unique debut novel.

8/10

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