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If you were to say that you were writing a book combining Sherlock Holmes, iconic filmmaker Billy Wilder and the Loch Ness Monster, set in London and Scotland, in two different time periods, I would probably wonder if the world had gone slightly mad – yet that’s exactly what novelist Patrick Kincaid has done in The Continuity Girl. And strangely, it works.

Mired in fact, Kincaid’s story moves between 1969, when Wilder shot The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, his least commercially successful film, and 2014, when a lost print of the full movie is discovered. The link is the ‘continuity girl’, April Bloom, who worked on Wilder’s film.

In reality, Wilder’s final version was viewed as far too long by studio bosses and he was forced to cut it by a third, reportedly breaking his heart. It went on to bomb at the box office, unlike previous commercial and critical successes, such as personal favourites Some Like It Hot (1959) and The Apartment (1960). Today, though, even in its edited form, the film has achieved cult status, fans ranging from author Jonathan Coe and film critic Kim Newman to Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffatt, who both credit it as informing their vision of Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch; BBC, 2010–17). Kincaid is himself a diehard fan of the movie, Sherlock Holmes and Wilder and this affection comes across in the novel.

I have always loved Billy Wilder movies, from before I realised there were Billy Wilder movies,’ he says. ‘… You are never lectured or otherwise spoken down to by a Wilder movie. You’re treated like a reasonably intelligent adult.’

In The Continuity Girl, film lecturer Gemma provides the commentary on the film in 2014, while side by side, in 1969, we experience the shoot in a small Scottish village through the eyes of Jim, a scientist seeking evidence of The Lock Ness Monster. (A recurring reference in the book is there’s a ‘monster who isn’t really a monster’.)

Gemma and Jim share a sense of displacement, neither of them really fitting into their worlds: Gemma is a Londoner, constantly reminded of her mixed Scottish–Jamaican heritage, while Jim is an Englishman always made to feel foreign in Scotland. Kincaid is himself Anglo-American and has ‘felt torn between two worlds at times’. He says, ‘Gemma is by far the character I relate to most … though that’s as much about her life as an academic (I had a go at that in an earlier life) as it is about her complex heritage.

With the various plot strands and dual timeframe, The Continuity Girl could have been an overly ambitious project, rather like Wilder’s film is sometimes (wrongfully) perceived to be, thus it’s all credit to Kincaid’s writing that it’s not. As a great Wilder fan, I wanted to like this book when I first heard its premise: thank God, it doesn’t disappoint.

 

The Continuity Girl | Patrick Kincaid | Unbound | August 2018 | paperback | £8.99

Meet Patrick Kincaid, The Literary Shed Q&A

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Music – Patrick Kincaid’s choices: Fairport Convention’s ‘A Sailor’s Life’; ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ by The Beatles; ‘Dizzy’ by Tommie Roe; ‘Space Oddity’ by David Bowie; ‘Girl from the North Country’ by Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash [‘a bit of a cheat, since it was released later in the year’]’; ‘In the Ghetto’ by Elvis … ‘But I’d love to have Rózsa’s ‘Ilse’ theme from The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, too’. Then you shall.

 

Acknowledgements: Author quotes taken from The Literary Lounge Q&A. This review is published as part of The Continuity Girl virtual book tour. Many thanks to Anne Cater for arranging it and to the publisher for kindly supplying a review copy of the book. All thoughts and opinions are our own. Image © The Literary Shed 2018.

 

Also of interest:The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes – a Billy Wilder classic?’;’Bellevue Square, Doppelganger-tastique‘; ‘Beautiful words – The Language of Secrets‘;‘Chris Whitaker’s mad, mad world – Tall Oaks’; ‘A tale of Jews and shoes in modern China, Spencer Wise’s debut novel‘; ‘Everyone needs a Mavis … or a Gina Kirkham’; ‘Beauty in translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s French Canadian noir’; ‘Johana Gustawsson’s Keeper – indie publisher Orenda does it again‘; ‘We should all be feminists’; ‘Jane Harper’s stylish debut – The Dry’; ‘Mallory an old-style hero – It Happens in the Dark by Carol O’Connell’; ‘Nora Roberts’ Come Sundown – a tale of strong women’.

Film: Night Mail (1936), changing the face of British film; A Colour Box by Len Lye (1935); Hitchcock (2012); The Splendour of George Stevens’ Giant (1956). Hitchcock (2012); The Splendour of George Stevens’ Giant (1956).

 

This review is © 2018 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.