It began Canada, to a cold, snowy day in 1912.
Flora Avery took her three daughters – Aurora, Clover and Bella – to an audition. She had been a vaudeville star, before her marriage to a school-teacher, and now she wanted the same for her girls.
I wondered if she was a pushy, show business mother, but she wasn’t. She was a widow, struggling to cope, and doing the best she could for her girls.
Vaudeville was hugely popular in those days, when cinema was in its infancy and television was a long way in the future. But it was very, very competitive.
The girls – The Belle Aurores – sing and dance well, but so do many others. Fortunately though they have Flora’s contacts – and her tenacity – and a little luck to set them on the road.
The three girls will go through many ups and downs as they travel the Vaudeville circuit. And there will be tears and laughter, joy and pain as they all come of age.
Three sisters quite beautifully drawn. I saw so much that they had in common, I saw the ties that bound them together, but I also saw that the three were quite different.
Aurora is the oldest and she is bright, practical, and prepared to apply herself to do what she knows is best for her family.
Clover is a little younger, and she is quieter and more thoughtful than her sisters, but every bit as willing as Aurora to do whatever needs to be done once she has seen things through.
And Bella, the youngest, is vivacious and warm-hearted, but maybe just a little bit headstrong.
They were utterly real, their relationships and their interactions were exactly right, and I loved them all.
Life would sometimes take them in different directions, but the bond between them was unbreakable.
Watching them as the years passed was a little like watching a theatre show: indeed the book is divided into acts, and then those acts are divided into short scenes, sketches, vignettes.
And I saw every detail. Their lives on and off stage, all of the people around them, the theatres, the boarding houses. The picture of their world was so complete that I really did feel that I had stepped into another age.
That isn’t to say that I didn’t have to do a little work: there were times when things were left unsaid, events were left unreported; times when I could only see things from a distance.
I didn’t mind that. It helped to draw me in to the story, whereas if everything had been explained I probably would have just stood back and enjoyed the spectacle.
The story moved slowly at first, but as the three sisters grew from girls into independent young women, as they found new interests, as they formed new relationships, as they had to make difficult choices, it gathered momentum and it was quite irresistible.
Because this isn’t just a wonderfully vivid picture of the world of vaudeville; it’s also a moving account of the lives of four women, moving forward with their lives, supporting and understanding each other, and holding on to the ties that made them into a family.
It’s a book to read slowly, so that you can take in every character, every song, every sight, every little incident. There really is so much to appreciate, and it is all drawn so beautifully.
And now it is over, but I’d like to think that the Belle Aurores are still out there somewhere, still performing …