Children Of Paradise By Camilla Grudova – A Review

Publisher: Atlantic Books

Publication Date: 7th July 2022

I read Camilla Grudova’s short story collection The Dolls Alphabet and absolutely loved it. Infact it has pride of place on my Forever Shelf and I don’t hang on to many short story collections usually.

Her stories are perfectly ‘on the wonk’ for me, off kilter and unusual, and that was the same for Children Of Paradise in absolute spades!

Holly takes a job as an usher at a once popular, grand and glamorous cinema known as The Paradise. Now however, it has lost its appeal, it’s funding and it’s glamorous opulence. Now it is run down, grubby, tatty and coming loose at it’s frayed edges.

Holly is initially ignored by her work colleagues, an unlikely band of twenty-something misfits and she feels terribly lonely. However, after a few weeks of being iced out she infiltrates their gang and gains trust enough to join in their nightly clandestine screenings of films once the cinema is closed and falls silent.

This group seem to only survive through their work at The Paradise and their love of film. They exist within the dark rich red walls of The Paradise as if the world outside isn’t real. They cruise the aisles of the cinema screen collecting discarded alcohol and drugs (prescription or otherwise) and pocketing lost jewellery or clothing.

They put up with the ever present irritation of the owner of The Paradise, an eccentric old woman who comes in to eat the food and watch the films. However when she dies the current employees are faced with a corporate take over and it’s from here that their lives both together in their misfit group and as individuals start to unravel in catastrophic and dark ways.

I tweeted about this book whilst halfway through it that it was grubby and gross and that is exactly what it is. And I mean that in a very positive way! The depictions and detailed descriptions of the now delapidated cinema made it so easy to imagine. The descriptions of cleaning up bodily fluids left behind after screenings, the blocked toilets and the rat infested popcorn were just stomach churning. Even though the cinema’s finery was fading fast the descriptions were vivid and visceral and unpleasant. Everything I love!

The characters are an unusual bunch, you get to see glimpses of each personality individually and how that fits with the coalescence of the group as a whole. Holly’s transformation from a quiet and unassuming usher from when she first was employed at The Paradise to when she has been absorbed fully into the group and is stealing and drug taking and having sex during screenings is interesting. You are taken on a slowly unfolding journey with her.

It’s also a quite sad depiction of capitalism and the pursuit of profit.

Overall it was a grimy, filthy, unsettling, grubby little novel and I absolutely loved it.

Thank you so much to Harry at Atlantic Books for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda x @bookishchat

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