Persephone's Torch: A Novel in Three Acts by freder

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An homage to theatre and theatre life

Synopsis: 1939: travel with an unusual theatrical company through a painted landscape of desire and dreams. Fantasy is their specialty and they have mastered the art - is the newest member of their extended family being carried to new heights by his yearning, or is he the victim of his own delusion? One by one you will come to know each member of the company, unlocking their colorful lives, learning their sometimes dark secrets. In this fateful last season of the company's life, who will emerge with their hopes for the future intact?

My two cents: Every once in a while I come across an obscure book that I love and when I want to share it ... *sound of crickets*. This is one of them, an absolute star of a book with very few readers.  So I hope to remedy that and sing it the praises so that maybe more people will decide to pick this up.

This book is an homage to the art of theatre, its rigours and discipline, and the disappointments and the ecstasies of living an artist's life. It is a tale of how the Jones Transportation Company, a theatrical company, is on its last legs during the bleak Great Depression.

The book opens with an excerpt from letter written by a Winslow Howe to a book publisher, and mentioning one important name: Margaret Darwin. This is also our introduction to how accountant Winslow meets the head of the Jones Transportation Company ... and how in a strange twist of events, he too becomes part of this company as their writer.

We are treated to their performances and their intriguing back stories, the curtains drawn and closed on each of those in this tight-knit group of seven: beautiful and immensely talented actor Margaret Darwin, also known as Jones (you'll have to read this to find why) who heads the company, and actors slash crew Moscow, Templeton, Mrs. Ruth Templeton, Sylvie, Mary and Lon.

We also learn of the company's proud beginnings, the tragedies that have befallen it, and we are led to speculate on how long the company can survive. Moreso, will the members be able to carry on ... with theatre and performing their passion and such an integral part of their lives?


The poster for the Jones Transportation
Company's performances
What I loved about this is the atmospheric quality of the writing. The story has a melancholy feel to it throughout, the theatrical details so carefully thought out and wonderfully descriptive that I couldn't help but savour and even wallow in them. I couldn't speed read this even if I wanted to, nor should anyone dare to.

The characters really stood out for me: they are an intriguing bunch and embody that there is more to a person than meets the eye. I loved how I formed my initial impressions of each one and as the story marched along, slowly uncovering different aspects of their personal lives, exposing their disappointments, and their hopes and dreams as artists and as people. Each has their own personal tragedy or their own little secret to tell, with Margaret Darwin's own story being the highlight for me (Moscow's is a close second). What stands out is all of them have clung on to theatre life with such tenacity and passion, individually and collectively, to keep the dream of the Jones Transportation Company alive.

If you love theatre, this will immerse you in the details of what goes on in the minds of actors, behind the scenes, and the dynamics, camaraderie and inevitable strong bonds formed within a theatre company. The entire book is peppered with snippets from scripts, mentions of plays and well-known characters, and memorable quotes. It's a fascinating look into this world which many of us only experience as onlookers.


One really charming part about this book is that is also a beautiful graphic experience. Flip through the book and you get a taste of the acts err, chapters opening/closing with the drawing of a curtain! Keep flipping and there are also select theatre ephemera, like a poster, a theatre ticket, a page out of a script. I loved these details and was amazed to learn that the writer is also the illustrator.

A minor problem is that there seems to a typesetting or printing issue and anything with {...} is so faint that it could pose some problems with the flow of reading.

Verdict: Like Persephone's torch guiding the dead to the underworld, this book will lead you into the underbelly of theatre life and guide you into the minds and lives of passionate theatre professionals. A beautiful feast for the senses which will rekindle your desire to go see some live theatre soon! Highly recommended and makes my list of top reads for this year.

About freder
freder (aka Douglas Thornsjo) is a writer, cartoonist and graphic designer living in a big old house packed with folk art, toys, books and cats. He has had fiction published in The North American Review, Kinesis, broadcast on National Public Radio and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He is the creator of the online comic strips Quirk and Tinsel*Town, and has written about comics and movie serials for a wide range of trade journals; most recently, he penned an introductory piece on Universal’s Flash Gordon movie serials for the second volume of The Library of American Comics’ “Definitive Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim.”

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Persephone's Torch: A Novel in Three Acts by freder
 Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

I received a copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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