Dark side of the Jazz Age

Journalist Daisy Waugh returns to the Golden Age of Hollywood in 1920s America in her book, Melting The Snow On Hester Street

The Great Gatsby enchants with its depiction of love and lavish lifestyles in the 1920s, whether in the original work of fiction by F.Scott Fitzgerald or the recent star-studded film.

Readers nostalgic for the era of bootleggers and bob cuts should pick up two new novels full of similar scandal and heady glamour.

Daisy Waugh's new novel Melting The Snow On Hester Street is a light but well-described social drama, set during the early days of the silver screen. It begins with Hollywood's hottest names entertaining outrageously, days before the 1929 stock market crash transforms millionaires into beggars.

Fans of film history will have a field day, as, a few pages into the tale, comedian Charlie Chaplin overturns the dinner table's seating for his own fun, the smouldering Greta Garbo throws a hissy fit and action hero Douglas Fairbanks' conversational gaffes crush the mood like a falling chandelier.

The evening's hosts and the story's real stars are fictional director Max Beecham and his wife, actress Eleanor. They exemplify the spirit of new America, where unknowns become media darlings overnight, and have the corresponding desire to ensure their squalid past is never discovered.

Following a series of movie flops, the Beechams' careers are teetering on the knife's edge and their marriage is a hollow act. As they decide whether or not to accept their lot, there are expected moments of dark comedy from Waugh, who is the granddaughter of the late British satirist Evelyn Waugh.

The cutlery at the dinner table, for example, is admired by all as antiques from Rome, when, in reality, each item comes from the props department and must be returned to the studio by sunrise.

The book would have been better off without its extended forays into the Beechams' sad past, but the fraying ties between husband and wife are credibly and endearingly presented.

If Melting The Snow On Hester Street is a story of people on top about to lose it all, The Other Typist is about those on the lowest rungs of the social ladder seeking to make their own space in a newly elastic social order.

The debut novel of author Suzanne Rindell, it is an unforgettable, chilling story that stays with the reader long after the last page is turned.

The heroine Rose Baker is a typist in the New York City Police Department, one of the first generation of women hired to use machines men refused to touch.

She transforms criminals' oral confessions into legible transcripts for court and helps complete other official reports. It is a job, and covers areas women are not really supposed to know about, an uneasy juxtaposition that exemplifies the heady and queasy excitement of the Jazz Age.

Anything is possible in the 1920s. In defiance of tradition and accepted order, people mingle regardless of gender or skin colour in speakeasies where alcohol is sold in defiance of the Prohibition law. Policemen turn a blind eye to bootleggers and women smoke, dance and cut their hair short in the new and popular bob.

An orphan brought up in a strict convent-school environment, Rose is a fish out of water in this decade until she is drawn into the glamorous wake of a new colleague in the typing pool.

Unsure why she is being cultivated by the other typist - hence the title - Rose nevertheless follows obediently and willingly, even if both she and the reader are aware of the obvious perils ahead.

It leads to some of the most unsettling first-person narration since Sarah Waters' novel of Victorian con women, The Fingersmith (2002), and correspondingly giddy, if slightly nauseating, thrills.

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