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Review: The Cinema At Starlight Creek by Alli Sinclair

on June 5, 2019

The Cinema At Starlight Creek 
Alli Sinclair
Harlequin MIRA
2019, 384p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy Harlequin AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

A heart-stirring novel of loss, love and new hope set against the glamorous backdrop of 1950s Hollywood and a small Australian country town. How far would you go to follow your dream?

Queensland, 1994 When location manager Claire Montgomery arrives in rural Queensland to work on a TV mini-series, she’s captivated by the beauty of Starlight Creek and the surrounding sugarcane fields. Working in a male-dominated industry is challenging, but Claire has never let that stop her pursuing her dreams-until now. She must gain permission to film at Australia’s most historically significant art deco cinema, located at Starlight Creek. But there is trouble ahead. The community is fractured and the cinema’s reclusive owner, Hattie Fitzpatrick, and her enigmatic great nephew, Luke Jackson, stand in her way, putting Claire’s career-launching project-and her heart-at risk.

Hollywood, 1950 Lena Lee has struggled to find the break that will catapult her into a star with influence. She longs for roles about strong, independent women but with Hollywood engulfed in politics and a censorship battle, Lena’s timing is wrong. Forced to keep her love affair with actor Reeves Garrity a secret, Lena puts her career on the line to fight for equality for women in an industry ruled by men. Her generous and caring nature steers her onto a treacherous path, leaving Lena questioning what she is willing to endure to get what she desires.

Can two women-decades apart-uncover lies and secrets to live the life they’ve dared to dream?

I love a dual timeline story. I think ever since I read The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley, they’ve been one of my favourite things to settle in with. I love a historical narrative and appreciate the ways in which authors can blend these stories with those in the present. In this story, the present is not particularly present – northern Queensland, 1994. It’s funny, 1994 isn’t that long ago really, in the grand scheme of things. But reading this book made me realise it’s a lifetime ago in terms of things like technology. Mobile phones are in their fledgling stages and the service is ridiculously patchy, dropping out a lot. There’s little to no internet (I remember we didn’t get the internet until 1998 and it was the slowest dial-up known to man). It means that so much more happens face to face as well, with Claire not able to liase via email or text message etc, the way that perhaps would happen now.

Claire is a film location manager who is down a location after an indiscretion between her lead actor and the daughter of the property owner. There’s only one other historically significant art-deco cinema that suits their purpose and so Claire heads to north QLD to beg permission from the owner, to use it in the film she is working on. The owner is Hattie Fitzpatrick, an elderly lady who is quite reclusive and at first, firm in her refusal to Claire. As a last ditch effort, Claire writes her an impassioned letter which touches Hattie. Intertwined with this is a story of Hollywood in the 1950s, when actors were attached to studios and starred in every picture they made. Lena Lee is a bit older then actresses just breaking into the scene but she’s incredibly talented and with the help of some friends, puts herself out there for recognition and roles.

I really, really enjoyed the 1950s Hollywood setting, which is actually not a time period I’ve visited a lot in fiction and definitely not in Hollywood. I’m not really a movie buff (people ask me have I see X movie, to which I inevitably reply no and they can never believe it) but I found this section really interesting. There was a lot of stuff I sort of knew vaguely but a lot that I didn’t as well. I found the social commentary well worked into the story. The 1950s is Cold War time, paranoia about communism and reds under the bed and who might be hiding what was rampant and there’s a whole government agency that seems dedicated to routing out communism, or what they think might be communism and people who support it. HUAC, aka the House of Un-American Activities committee were firmly convinced communism and propaganda had infiltrated the Hollywood scene and in real life, studios often blacklisted or boycotted artists suspected of sympathies. Homosexuality was also considered a disease and for some reason, linked to communist sympathies as well. There were many actors and artists of this time who were forced to leave America to find work elsewhere – very few people investigated or accused could successfully rebuild a career in America. Studios were also beholden to censors, who could wield power over a film by cutting things they deemed inappropriate or demanding changes.

In the more modern setting, Claire faces the pressure of being a woman in a world that is still quite dominated by men, with someone working alongside her that is desperate to see her fail, so that they might have her job. It seems that no mistakes are tolerated and even though it wasn’t Claire’s fault that the first location didn’t work out and she did manage to secure the second location, it seems all eyes are on her to make sure nothing else goes wrong. The pressure is immense and in the middle of it all, Claire is still trying to figure out what she wants to do in her career that is meaningful to her. Hattie’s great nephew, Luke is a bit of a distraction. At first the two clash over Claire’s desire to use the cinema but when Hattie thaws so does Luke and the two of them find a connection. I really enjoyed the character of Luke and his struggle with his duty versus his dream. It added a nice depth to his character and a layer to the story that I felt could strengthen his connection with Claire.

On the surface, this was a lot of fun – the settings were excellent and I could really picture myself there, be it 1950s Hollywood for 1994 sugarcane fields in Queensland. But there was a lot going on beneath the surface, the struggle of women to have it all, to break through into what was a mostly male dominated world. To hold their own, make their mark and fulfil their dreams, sometimes at personal cost. There’s tragedy here too, star-crossed love and lots more. An iceberg of a book!


Book #85 of 2019

The Cinema At Starlight Creek is book #37 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019


One response to “Review: The Cinema At Starlight Creek by Alli Sinclair

  1. […] The Cinema At Starlight Creek by Alli Sinclair. My review. […]

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