One of the undead becomes the secret cinematic muse of 1920s Berlin and 1930s Hollywood in this historical fantasy.
After a nightmarish childhood, Maddy survives both the Spanish Flu epidemic and the Great War when an encounter with what appears to be a werewolf leaves her in possession of eternal life. Her travels bring her in contact with the filmmakers who were pioneering the great flowering of German cinema during the silent era. Maddy works as consultant, actress, and director, specializing in ways to harness the visual language of film to poetic renderings of horror. Because she appears to be a young girl, though, she has no way of leveraging her accomplishments into a major directing career. The same is true when success brings her to Hollywood, though she does encounter the architects of early screen horror, the directors James Whale and Tod Browning and the actors Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff (that lovely actor who is lovingly drawn). There's a great idea at the heart of this: that an emissary from the undead is best suited to call forth the eternal poetry of movies, the stories and images that will outlast those who made them. But the opening section detailing Maddy's early years is a heavy-spirited slog, the later detour to Nazi Germany an unpleasant lapse in taste, and the book never quite finds the right tone, failing to marry the Hollywood legend and history of the industry's early years to the yearning, necrophiliac lyricism of the concept.
This novel often speaks in beautiful language. Why, oh, why doesn't it sing?