Whatever they do in the dark, Coe makes it clear there’s plenty of darkness in which to do it.
At the center of the novel is Lallie Paluza, a pre-pubescent star on the British telly in the mid ’70s. Lallie is undeniably talented, doing an assortment of impressions as well as a kind of Vaudevillian farce in her popular sitcom, and some of her most ardent fans are about her age. Primary among these fans (it’s good to remember that “fan” derives from “fanatic”) are Pauline Bright and Gemma, who follow every show with breathless excitement. Pauline is a “bad” girl from the wrong side of the tracks. She comes from a family notorious for producing petty criminals, and she seems heading in the same direction, for she lies, fights, skips school and swears with abandon. Gemma, in contrast, comes from a more genteel family, but one that’s emotionally distant and dysfunctional (as Tolstoy might remind us) in its own way. Lallie-fever gets unbearably intense when the girls find out that she will be coming to their bleak Yorkshire town to shoot a movie. Not only do they hope to meet her, they also hope to get bit parts in the film. Coe switches narrators from the naïve and somewhat prim Gemma to a neutral, third-person voice that introduces us to an eccentric cast of supporting characters such as Frank, Lallie’s febrile and twitchy manager, who wonders what will happen to his own professional life when Lallie hits adolescence; Katrina, Lallie’s stage mother, who both protects and exploits her daughter; Vera, an aging actress who resents being upstaged by a 10-year-old; and Quentin, a sex-obsessed American producer who’s trying to decide whether Lallie would be right for a part in The Little Princess.
A rich novel that explores the “darkness” of social dysfunction both in 10-year-olds and in the adult world.