What is this about?: It is on the surface, about the search for Iolanthe Green, an actress who disappears during her play’s run in London. Anna, who is her costumer and friend, goes on a search for her.
What else is this about?: It’s about characters who are “other”: whether they are a woman, Black, Irish or Muslim. How do they fit into London in 1965. What do they do to do so?
Blurb: London, November 1965. Millions of Londoners are living and working on the fringes of the fashionable West End. Tales of the Moors murders fill the papers. Beyond the glamour of the all-white Carnaby Street scene lie other worlds of Caribbean music, Turkish coffee houses, Soho prostitution and stolen identities.
One Saturday evening, American star Iolanthe Green finishes a performance, walks out onto the Charing Cross Road and disappears. At first everybody cares where she went … and then nobody does.
A diverse group of émigré Londoners—an Irish policeman, a Turkish coffee house owner and a Jamaican accountant—are drawn together to search for a woman who’s quickly being forgotten. They are led by Iolanthe’s dresser, Anna Treadway—a woman who knows quite a bit about reinvention—and together they will travel into a world of underground music clubs, back street abortionists, seaside ghost towns and police brutality.
Passionate, witty and surprising, Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars is a mystery, a romance and a tale of immigration: the story of how some people are forced to start their lives again and again and again….
Despite the lyrical title and the promise of a mystery, Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars is hardly a conventional read.
Sure, there’s a mystery, but London and the characters that inhabit it and cross Anna’s path as she searches for Iolanthe are the heart of this story. This is a story about what people do to fit in instead of embracing who they are and standing out – but that sentiment is from someone who can look back at a time they’ve never lived in… and even as I write that, it occurs to me: isn’t that what people are still trying to do today?
Everyone has their secrets, some more shocking than others. But, Emmerson’s writing is restrained and focused so that their secrets are not sensationalised – instead, they appear within the narrative making you go “oh” and forcing you to readjust your thinking about the characters. I think I like that. But I also think I would have liked to have known Anna and some other characters more. Perhaps, this could have done with a smaller cast of characters, with more depth to each than they currently have.
I think this is more a literary story than a mystery, with slower pacing that doesn’t lend itself to the tension you’d expect to find in a mystery. Or to be more accurate, that I want tend to lean towards in my reading. But, it is a book that I found myself contemplative about. There’s a rich cast of characters here, and Emmerson builds a complicated, diverse world around them.