Children of Paradise by Camilla Gudrova

I really don’t know what this book was about.

Holly, the narrator of the story, applies and gets a job in an aging cinema whose staff are in a clique, linked together through knowledge of film, that does not include her. As she watches old films at home and gets to know more, she is gradually taken in to the group and joins them to watch films after hours. Her life becomes a whirl of old movies, taking drugs that were found after the customers had left, sex in the back row, eating disgusting food and sleeping in a cold flat.

The story is really grubby and is of inappropriate behaviour such as squeezing someone’s neck until they pass out, drinking the dregs of customer’s drinks and hiding dead bodies until the customers have all gone.

Eventually the cinema is taken over by a corporate cinema company and everything changes. There are rules for the staff, customers are to be smiled at and helped but noe of this works and eventually the cinema closes. This is a very relatable part of the book for me – I have had the same experience though not when working at a cinema and it felt fairly true to life. This makes me worry about how true the other sordid activities at the cinema were as Gudrova works at such a place in Scotland.

I still can’t see the point of the story. Is it about low paid workers? Those on the edge of creative fields and how they want their lives to be? The death of old cinemas? Is it about culture change in places of work? It could well be about all of the above.

Perhaps the clue is in the title – Children of Paradise – because it so obviously wasn’t paradise. Paradise was a common name for old cinemas. A place for escape and to be free.

Picture houses are built for dreams, lies and fantasies.

The staff in this cinema are the children as as paradise closes they have to go out into the real world and make their way. Some of them don’t manage it. Perhaps they are not in Paradise but in purgatory. It felt like it. There is also the door in the cinema under the screen that opens up straight into the local sewer, there are constellations painted on the ceilings and almost-humans painted onthe columns of the building so I wondered if this was the underworld. Paradise was properly lost!

Each chapter was headed by a film – usually old films – and because I didn’t know any of them, I was unable to relate them to the section I was reading but I am not sure that mattered. Film buffs might love this aspect.

Writing about the book did help me understand it a bit better so I am moving my stars awarded from 1 to 2.5. I needed a bath after reading this book!

This book did appear on the longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2023.

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