At the launch of HarperCollins Canada’s Summer Escapes on Tuesday, author Kim Izzo described My Life in Black and White as “film noir meets screwball comedy.” As a former film student with an affinity for chick flicks, I had to pick it up and read right away!
My Life in Black and White follows Clara Bishop, a celebrity gossip reporter who has recently been wronged by her husband. At the beginning of the novel, he abruptly divorces her and leaves for London with his 21-year-old mistress. Clara, who had previously purchased a plane ticket to surprise her husband overseas, follows shortly afterwards, armed with a suitcase filled with vintage clothing inherited from her grandmother (a former film noir actress). Though the trip begins as an attempt to win Dean back, it quickly becomes driven by by vengeance. Inspired by a discovery of an old film script, Clara channels her inner femme fatale.
This transition to “hell cat” becomes quite literal when Clara awakes from a nap and lands herself in a time of not her own, but one more appropriate for the glamorous clothes she had brought with her her: 1952. Admittedly, you’ll have to suspend your disbelief for this story, but it is worth it. Set against the fog of post-World War 2, Clara confidently parades around London, making shady deals with reporters and flirting with big-time film executives. Clara’s sexy, confident disposition throughout the novel calls to mind many fiery film noir actresses including of my favourites, Mildred Pierce (as played by Joan Crawford).
The structure of the narrative follows Clara as she recounts her excapades in London to a British police officer. Why she is under question is not initially revealed, and I was curious as to what landed Clara in prison. The plot unfolds at a quick pace, and the novel’s short chapters allow you to indulge in its story throughout the day, whether it is on the bus, in line for lunch, or a quick read before bed (but be warned, you may stay up much later than anticipated with the promise of just one more chapter…).
Kim Izzo was correct: My Life in Black and White is both a film noir and a screwball comedy. It is also a mystery, a romance and a perfect way to escape this summer.