Silver Salts

Silver Salts

A Novel

Book - 2008
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Lillie Dempster of Saint John, New Brunswick, often imagines herself on the big screen. It is the one fantastic escape she can afford from her tragic daily life. In the burgeoning early years of the twentieth century, Lillie is a lot like the distressed damsels from the silent films she loves. Orphaned by the Great War and the Spanish influenza at fourteen, Lillie is forced to move in with her upstairs neighbour, Frank. She finds, however, that life does not get much better as a pretty young girl who draws unwanted interest from men wherever she goes.

When a group of filmmakers come to town to shoot a movie, she finally has the opportunity to live her film fantasies. Lillie makes her debut as a silent actress, standing in for the often temperamental Norma Shearer. Finding she has a future in Hollywood, Lillie makes her way west, but as she quickly learns, life in the spotlight is not always the glamour and glitz she thought it would be. Mark Blagrave delivers a novel that illustrates life on the east coast at the turn of the century, showing the onrush and upheaval of the modern world through the emergence of unions and social unrest, the horrors of the First World War, and the wonders of ever-evolving technology.

Publisher: Toronto : Cormorant Books, 2008.
ISBN: 9781897151242
Characteristics: 315 pages ; 22 cm


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RuCo41 Feb 05, 2015

I had to read this for an introduction to literature class. When I saw that it was about a woman from Saint John, I was intrigued; throughout the book, I was looking for things I recognized or people that one might meet on the street here. I was not disappointed. The book begins around the turn of the 20th century with Lillie Dempster, a poor Saint John girl who had been orphaned by the Spanish Influenza epidemic. She lives with her neighbor, an alcoholic journalist who took her in after the death of her parents. Lillie's life is far from idyllic and she finds solace in the movies she goes to see at the Capitol Theater (now the Imperial Theater). Lillie is discovered and goes to work in Hollywood as a body double for the silent film actress Norma Shearer under another Saint John native, Louis B. Mayer. Lillie's story is one of struggle, self-discovery and shows the dark side of showbiz. This story comments on a lot of things from the struggle that poor young women face as a result of their position and their gender to how one defines oneself and whether it really is "worth it" to have everything when you don't have yourself anymore. I really enjoyed reading this book because I found Lillie so relatable and had met her so many times in Saint John. It was also nice to read about Saint John and see the city streets as I got through the book. Blagrave has insight into the things that make Saint John what it is; the old buildings, the mix of people from all walks of life and the potential and the hope of rebirth in the face of diversity. I also enjoyed the mix of fictional characters and real ones, this made the book more believable.

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