What They Do in the Dark

In British screenwriter Amanda Coe's debut novel, What They Do in the Dark, the bleak 1970s Yorkshire setting echoes the dark lives of Gemma and Pauline, the prepubescent girls at the center of the story.

Both girls are fans of child TV star Lallie Paluza, and that's about all they have in common. Gemma comes from a "good" family; she has plenty to eat, pocket money, good clothes. "Bad" girl Pauline is a foul-mouthed brawler, barely literate, and longs for the love of her mother--or a reasonable facsimile, since the actual one is a hooker who plies her trade in Leeds and returns home only every few months to rest. In her absence, Pauline's household is made up of a random siblings, a derelict grandmother and various "uncles."

When Pauline and Gemma hear that Lallie's production company is going to shoot a movie in town, they are agog with hopes of becoming Lallie's friends and, ultimately, movie stars. But Gemma is overlooked completely and Pauline, in an attempt to be noticed positively for a change, nicks money from her grandmother, goes to a hairdresser and has her hair done. The casting director, then sees her as just part of the crowd.

The cast and crew of the production company form a Greek chorus, and the film's script, so cleverly conceived by Coe, is a perfect example of life imitating art. This darkly funny, sordid, brutally honest concoction comes to a conclusion that nobody could predict, as Gemma's and Pauline's lives intertwine in a downward spiral toward disaster. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

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