The Glimmer Palace
It’s impossible not to wish Lilly Nelly Aphrodite well. The protagonist of The Glimmer Palace is a spirited, resourceful, and keen-eyed child who grows up parentless in Berlin during and after World War I. Nothing lasts long enough for Lilly to feel any sense of security—not the orphanage where she is abandoned as a child, nor the boarding houses or back rooms in her years of struggle, nor the posh hotels and ocean front mansions that come later when she becomes a beautiful and seductive German film star.
The deprivations of life in a war-ravaged country are graphically drawn through events Lilly endures, most notably a scene where a horse is butchered where it fell dead on the street, and every bit of its still-warm flesh is carried off by starving Berliners. Likewise, the predatory undercurrents of a morally indifferent and nihilist cabaret culture are real and present in Colin’s skilled depiction of Lilly’s relentless and mind-numbing travails, as well as those of the friends and betrayers who come in and out of her life. Less effective are the rather disjointed descriptions of film scenes that open each chapter, and a pace in the last hundred pages that reads more like a summary than fully developed fiction.
Some readers may be put off by Colin’s tendency to give away what will happen in the future, sometimes in the same breath with which she first introduces a character. Other are likely to view this as an effective means of introducing a tone of harsh inevitability, which helps the reader understand what it must have been like to live in those times. The rise to power of the Nazis makes a chilling conclusion to the book.
The Luminous Life of Lily Aphrodite