Petite Mort, the unputdownable début novel by writer and filmaker Beatrice Hitchman, begins with a wonderfully evocative opening, in which we meet protagonist Adèle Roux. Watching a silent film for the first time in 1913, she determines that her future lies on the silver screen.
She makes the journey to Paris, where she presents herself at the Pathé factory that she believes holds the key to reaching those dreams.
However, her audition for the new film Petite Mort does not go to plan, and Adèle is consigned to working as a costume-maker in the less glamorous division of the factory. The loneliness felt by Adèle is palpable as she has only the clothes to ‘wave helplessly in reply’.
But she is offered an escape, when André Durand seems to offer her a route into the life of fame that she so desperately desires – in exchange for an affair with him.
Soon, he has given her a bedroom in his lavish household, under the guise of taking on the role of his wife’s assistant. It is when Adele meets said wife Luce - or Terpsichore, as stage-name would have it – that the story really begins.
It is not just the duality of her name, but the secrets that Luce harbours behind her composed public façade that cause Adele eventually to become much more than a mere assistant.
On the surface, Petite Mort is a tale of ambition and the lengths people will go to to fulfil their dreams, no matter what it takes - but the wholly unpredictable and satisfying twist at the end delivers a very different perspective. When Adele is finally offered a more significant role of her own, she must decide whether she is willing to steal the limelight from her mentor.
It’s the handling of the relationships between the three characters – André, Luce, and Adele – that shows how deeply intuitive Beatrice Hitchman is as a writer.
On the surface, Petite Mort is a tale of ambition and the lengths people will go to to fulfil their dreams, no matter what it takes – but the wholly unpredictable and satisfying twist at the end delivers a very different perspective.