Source: Review copy
Publication: 16 April 2020 from Orenda Books
When iconic musical Dust is revived twenty years after the leading actress was murdered in her dressing room, a series of eerie events haunts the new cast… The Dean Wilson Theatre is believed to be haunted by a long-dead actress, singing her last song, waiting for her final cue, looking for her killer…
Now Dust, the iconic musical, is returning after twenty years. But who will be brave enough to take on the role of ghostly goddess Esme Black, last played by Morgan Miller, who was murdered in her dressing room?
Theatre usher Chloe Dee is caught up in the spectacle. As the new actors arrive, including an unexpected face from her past, everything changes. Are the eerie sounds and sightings backstage real or just her imagination? Is someone playing games?Not all the drama takes place onstage. Sometimes murder, magic, obsession and the biggest of betrayals are real life. When you’re in the theatre shadows, you see everything.
And Chloe has been watching…
Louise Beech’s writing just gets better and better. She has that uncanny talent of being able to conceive a spellbinding story, create the authentic and vivid characters that make it work and then add a setting that could not be more perfect for the tale she wants to tell.
She did it with The Lion Tamer Who Lost, one of my all-time favourite books, and she has accomplished it again with I Am Dust. This time, though, she has added sparkle; the glittering magical dust of the theatre adds a special lustre to her story. Combine that with an old musical with its own tragic story and the Scottish play and that enables her to conjure up superstition, ghostly apparitions and and creates the right air of possibility which lures us in and makes us believe.
Set in the Dean Wilson theatre, in two timelines, 2005 and the present day, the two constant characters are Chloe and Jess. Teenagers in 2005 and great theatre fans, both girls are involved in school drama activities and loving it. The flashbacks in time present to us a Chloe that is quite different to the one that we see today. Now she is an usher in the theatre, lacking in confidence, trying to stop her self-harming tendencies and writing as a way of achieving that. It is as if she is spilling her blood onto the page, such is the emotional energy that she puts into her work.
Her past is only half remembered, she has blanks where her memory out to be able to remember and she has recently been prone to passing out. Something happened in the summer of 2005 that she can’t or won’t remember.
Chloe, Jess and Ryan were in the Scottish play. Ryan of course qas the King, Jess his Queen and Chloe the Witch. They are a threesome of sorts, with Jess and Ryan pairing up, but only Chloe is truly in love. Ryan inveigles them into Ouija board sessions amid the play’s paraphernalia because there is something Ryan needs and he believes this is the way to get it but he requires Chloe’s help. The trouble is that Chloe can’t always control her emotions and that can prove to be quite tricky.
Louise Beech brilliantly captures the pain of those difficult teenage years. The pain of unrequited love; the feeling of being left out and being not quite good enough; the desire to fit in and go along with what the cool kids want. The way she lays out some really quite difficult topics makes them feel natural and completely believable. It makes the reader want to reach out to Chloe and hug her.
In the present day, the past has come back and it is literally haunting Chloe. Jess is coming home to play the lead in the revival of the most successful production the theatre ever had, until its star, Morgan Miller, was found murdered in her dressing room. No-one was ever charged with her murder.
In the Dean Wilson Theatre Beech has also created exactly the right sense of excitement around a production in which everyone is investing all their hopes and dreams. A once fading theatre that has been down on its luck for years is banking everything on a successful revival of its most notorious production and suddenly everyone is talking about it.
That heightened sense of the need for success helps to drive the events that play out in the theatre behind the scenes as Chloe and Jess reunite and Chloe begins to remember where it all began. The omens are all there, but can Chloe put it all together and solve the mystery in time to prevent another crime?
Verdict: I absolutely loved this beautifully written book. It’s a little bit magical, tinged with a hint of ghostliness and absolutely spellbindingly riveting. Sensitive, powerful and emotive, it plucks the heartstrings even as the plot is leading you to its surprising but perfect conclusion.
Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. Her second book, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Both of her previous books Maria in the Moon and The Lion Tamer Who Lost were widely reviewed, critically acclaimed and number-one bestsellers on Kindle. The Lion Tamer Who Lost was shortlisted for the RNA Most Popular Romantic Novel Award in 2019. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice. Louise lives with her husband on the outskirts of Hull, and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.