In brief: In 1950s Hollywood, Louise Wilde inherits the estate of a screenwriter she barely knows. But on entering Florrie’s apartment, she sees a picture of her mother. What is the link between them all?
The good: Fascinating look at two golden eras – 1950s Hollywood and 1920s America.
The not-so-good: Very, very sad at some points.
Why I chose it: I enjoy golden era Hollywood novels, plus a cross-country trip in a Model T Ford intrigued me. Thanks Allen & Unwin for the copy!
Publisher: Allison & Busby
Rating: 9.5 out of 10
I am a total sucker of novels set in old school Hollywood and America in the 1920s. Combine the two together, add in a vintage car and you have a book that it perfect for me. Woman Enters Left also throws into the mix a nasty occupational hazard, the fun of a road trip and the agony of a one-sided love. Then just when I think I couldn’t have any more favourites combined, there are excerpts of screenplays, diaries and letters. Needless to say, I loved Woman Enters Left. It was a lot deeper emotionally than I expected, with some very sad moments between characters and also posed several questions related to love, loss and secrets.
The story is a dual narrative across two historic time periods. The first is 1950s Hollywood. Louise Wilde is a firm B-grade movie star who isn’t getting the roles she wants. She’s sick of singing and tap-dancing in films and longs for something more serious. Louise rejects her latest role (small town girl who fills in for a Vegas showgirl friend) and decides to take to the road. She leaves behind her husband, searching for something fuzzy that was briefly remembered when she saw the picture of her mother in Florence Daniels’ apartment. It’s a road trip to find her former self, make sense of her past and reconcile with the difficulties of her present. (Also, as a movie star on the run, she can finally eat hamburgers and cake). Running in parallel as Louise heads east is the story of Florrie and Ethel (Louise’s mother) heading west. Florrie wants to become a screenwriter as it offers a steady salary and the chance to be recognised. Ethel just wants to reunite with her husband and daughter in Nevada after he left her a note saying he wanted a divorce. It’s a clunky journey in a Model T Ford (possibly the most difficult car to drive!) both mechanically and emotionally for the pair. Florrie and Ethel, once the best of friends, now hide a number of secrets from each other. As they make their way slowly on a shoestring, they rediscover their friendship. However, this serves to push the oldest, deepest secrets to the surface as Florrie and Ethel struggle with their emotions.
Woman Enters Left at first seems relatively simple as a story of two road trips but it covers issues of the respective time periods and those that are timeless. There is insight into the studio system of Hollywood (where actors were contracted to a studio and told what they will be acting in) and into the fear of Communism and those who are expressing anti-American views. The Korean War and aftereffects are also explored through the eyes of Louise’s husband. For Florrie and Ethel, the aftereffects of their war effort also packs the strongest emotional punch I’ve read of recent times. (I’m not giving away spoilers here, I want the reader to feel the same ‘Oh. No.’ moment!) Florrie also has the difficulty of trying to hide her feelings, which do not conform to the societal norms of the 1920s. Ethel is also deeply worried about being a divorcee and what that will mean for her and access to her daughter. Worry is a strong theme throughout the novel – of what others think, of what others expect. Can the characters develop strength to break through the barriers of society and hold their heads high?
I devoured this book in just a couple of days, as I felt incredibly invested in the stories of these women. It’s an emotional read where you can’t help but be on Louise, Florrie and Ethel’s sides as they fight to be individuals in a restricted time for women.