The ghost of a murdered woman relives and evaluates her life in this elaborately orchestrated tale from the Irish novelist (The Dream of a Beast, 1989, etc.) and filmmaker (Mona Lisa, The Crying Game, etc.).
Employing a narrative method similar to that of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones (not to mention Billy Wilder’s film classic Sunset Boulevard), Jordan tells his strange story through the disembodied voice of retired film and theater actress Nina Hardy. It’s a tale that cuts a melodramatic swath through the period 1900–50, beginning with Nina’s dispassionate account of her murder by her childhood friend George, whose unrequited love for her was frustrated by Nina’s close attachment to her brooding half-brother Gregory, a brain-damaged simulacrum of Emily Brontë’s Heathcliff. There are also pronounced echoes of Dickens’s Great Expectations in Nina’s remembrance of growing up in Baltray House, located on an estuary of the River Boyne—to which element Nina will eventually “return” (for George had decapitated her and thrown her headless body into a septic tank that emptied into it). Shade (a nice title, incidentally) exhibits both lyrically precise writing and overstraining for effect. The specific detail with which Nina describes her early years (marked by her vivid imagination and by the foreshadowing —presence of her ill-fated alcoholic governess) and her experience of the movies’ transition from silent films to “talkies” is invariably dramatic and interesting. But it was surely a mistake to credit her “shade” with total godlike omniscience even if this does enable Jordan to create compelling images of the WWI experiences of the two men who figure most importantly in her life and death. There are many beautiful moments here, but the vivid particulars do not consistently cohere.
Still, Jordan undoubtedly has the skills to turn it into a movie that will be well worth seeing.