Millie Spark has been released after serving a quarter of a century in prison for the murder of her boyfriend. She still protests her innocence, at least to herself. She is in her seventies now, still physically fit but emotionally battered by her experience, struggling to undertake even minor errands. Her former life as a special effects make-up artist in low budget horror films is something she can’t even think about.
Then Jerry, a young student who is struggling with some issues of his own, answers an ad to move in with Millie and the two other older women she lives with. Vivian, the homeowner, wants to do one of those intergenerational shares, where he gets cheap rent in return for helping out with chores and engaging with his housemates. Jerry is studying Film and is obsessed with the last film Millie ever worked on, a film which is alleged to be cursed and which was never released.
A chance event gives Millie a new lead on the events that led to her conviction. When she begins to dig, she puts herself and Jerry in danger. They go on the run, on a journey that takes them across Europe, determined to protect themselves and to solve the mystery of what really happened.
The Cut bears a superficial resemblance to Denise Mina’s Conviction – a woman investigating her own past life among the super-rich, an odd couple on the road in glamorous foreign locations. Both books even have a yacht in them. The Cut, though, is less exuberant, given all that Millie has already lost. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that she and Jerry are both damaged and their hesitant steps towards friendship and trust are beautifully observed.
The story about Millie’s past takes in a political element, recalling the ‘video nasties’ moral panic of the 80s and 90s and featuring a Murdoch-type family, whose story is interwoven with Millie’s both on a cultural and a personal level. It is also chastening to learn that for Jerry, the Leveson Inquiry is a historical event, something he has only learnt about at university, rather than a recent memory!
The novel is steeped in cinematic references. It illustrates the powerful shared experience of fandom, particularly for those who feel isolated in ‘real’ life, and the way niche interests are sustained and shared in the online space, in contrast with the era of video.
The flashbacks to the filming of the lost classic didn’t quite come to life so well for me. The characters and events on the film set felt quite generic (coke, arrogant men, underage girls). The present-day incarnations of those who survived felt more nuanced, offering an insight into what becomes of the people who don’t quite make it, and are on the fringes of a fiercely competitive and profit-driven industry.
In The Cut, nothing is quite as it seems. Even those who create illusions for a living aren’t immune to the power of myth and deception. Millie and Jerry’s journey challenges them to unravel lies and find redemption. And have a few adventures along the way.
I received a copy of The Cut from the publisher via Netgalley.
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