Friday, 26 August 2016

The Black Look by Michael Butterworth

 
published 1972

 
Black Look


[A fashion editor is explaining the reason for a trip to Paris]

‘This assignment we’re on is for a special autumn issue with a special gimmick.

The Black Look.

The special issue will project black as an autumn fashion colour,’ said Sonia Hammersley. ‘The London couturiers have gone rather overboard on black, and it provides us with a peg on which to hang a gimmick. We decided to bring Candida over here and shoot her on location in some of your eerie Parisian cemeteries, in the black ensembles we’ve brought…'

[Later, one of the fashion shoots] Candida modelled in the sunlight of a stonemason’s yard in Montparnasse, her eyes – and her thoughts – hidden. She wandered like a slim wraith in black among the tumbled heaps of shaped marble and limestone; touching the carved wings of falling angels..

Sonia Hammersley didn’t think the session was all that hot.. Candida has better change into the slacks and shirt and do the whole thing over again…. So Candida had to go through the whole routine again, in a different rig-out.

commentary: I did another Michael Butterworth book last year – Flowers for a Dead Witch – and just afterwards esteemed blogging colleague Xavier Lechard did a post on this one for his At the Villa Rosa blog. So I got hold of the book – the fashion setting would have ensured that, even if Xavier hadn’t recommended it. As he says in the post, Butterworth is almost forgotten now, which is a shame. This is an exotic, atmospheric read, and one that I raced through in a few hours.

Beautiful but troubled model Candida is a fashion model on her way to a shoot in Paris. In the opening scene – which you truly cannot fault, I defy anyone not to want to read on – she opens her bag to a French customs officer and (I was expecting drugs planted on her) there is a severed hand.

She is plainly innocent – is this a prank gone wrong perhaps? – so the fashion posse is allowed to continue with its trip. Candida reflects on her difficult upbringing, her wide-ranging fears, and her may-not-be-going-well love affair. They go out to cemeteries and other sad dark places for miserable shoots in dark dire weather, with Candida having to change her clothes in odd places such as a mausoleum. And then more body parts turn up… She moves around Paris in a cloud of rain and misery.

No-one is trustworthy, and the fashion hag Sonia, above, is particularly mean to Candida. My favourite line of the book is when she thinks she has caught out Candida and the photographer, and shouts out:
‘You grubby, underhand creeps!... you mimsy necrophiliac little whore!’
The Devil Wears Prada has nothing on Sonia.

The references to gay characters are very much of their time, and although they would not be acceptable now, I’m inclined to give Butterworth a pass, as he is doing his best.

The ending is a complete surprise – I don’t think anyone could work it out (and the logistics rather defy probability) but it makes sense from what went before.

Altogether a shamelessly ridiculous and enjoyable read.

The picture is from a fashion magazine of the era.
















13 comments:

  1. Oh, that is a compelling beginning for a novel, Moira! And no, I can't see you passing up the chance to read a novel with fashion as its core. The setting for the shoot sounds interesting, too. I can see how you enjoyed this. It strikes me as one of those more brooding novels, too - intriguing.

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    1. Yes, it's a good start, and I will read almost anything with a fashion setting. And it is a well-plotted and atmospheric book... very much of its time.

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  2. Well I'm totally convinced - thanks Moira, will start scouring the inter web!

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  3. PS just went and ordered it in fact (must be the heat)

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    1. Oh good - I think! It's entertaining and doesn't take long to read. Actually would make a good film - the Paris atmosphere is not too clichéd, very well done.

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  4. I will put this on the "maybe someday" list. Love the image.

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    1. If you saw something at booksale by Butterworth you should pick it up Tracy - definitely worth a try.

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  5. Moira; At least with a severed hand none of the clothes would have been ruined.

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    1. Also, as they were mostly black, they didn't suffer too much from the disturbance....

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  6. those eyes are very powerful ..I love your post...i Would like to visit again

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  7. Love the photo, but I'll pass on the book.

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    1. I'd have thought you might have some Butterworth tucked away in the loft. There's one called The Man with the Sopwith Camel, which I think you might like.

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