Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert

Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert

Review by Kelly Pells

Publisher: HarperCollins

I didn’t think I would like this book, since it’s being touted as a literary novel and they are usually a bit pretentious for me, but Last Night at the Blue Angel is an exception. Set in 1960s Chicago, the novel explores the tumultuous relationship between Naomi Hill, a jazz singer on the brink of stardom, and her ten-year-old daughter Sophia. Naomi is both irresistible and self-destructive, and Sophia, who has seen things no ten-year-old should witness, is unsettled by a troubled home life. The one thing they both seem able to rely on is Jim, their photographer friend. But Jim is in love with Naomi, a situation that can only lead to disaster.

  The story is told in alternating chapters between Naomi and Sophia. This works well, and you realise just how little the two characters know and understand each other. However, they did have quite similar voices so at times it was difficult remembering who was telling which bit of the story. Rotert does capture Sophia’s voice particularly well, the voice of a young girl with the alarming perception of a child. The descriptions of Naomi and the power she holds over everyone around her are also brilliant and very effective.

  The whole book is very well-written, impressive for a debut. The sentences and paragraphs flow so well that, before you know it, you’ve read half the book. Rotert creates a great sense of tension, all the little unspeakable things beneath the surface, and you never know when pressures are going to erupt and lead to a fight.

  Rotert presents a very interesting relationship between mother and daughter, one which I think is quite unique because I haven’t read many other books looking at this kind of relationship. I found that I did care about the characters and what happened to them. Rotert does a brilliant job of slowly bringing you into the characters’ world, which seems to come alive on the page with broader issues like racism and the Cold War also at play. There is a diverse range of characters, all of whom seem three-dimensional and have more to them than first meets the eye.

  The ending was satisfying, particularly as I wasn’t sure how it was going to end or how Rotert was going to wind things up. The ending was heart-breaking and poignant, and very memorable.

  Even if you have no interest in 1960s America or jazz music, I think you would still enjoy this book.


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