Thanks to Little Brown and NetGalley for the review copy.
This review, including the content warning directly below, contains significant spoilers as I feel the subject matter necessitates it.
CW: Rape, abuse, gun violence, suicide
I am a huge fan of Carrie’s work, so when her novels are due to come out I always eagerly count down the days to release. I was thrilled to get an early copy of When The Curtain Falls, but what I found was not what I expected.
It’s 1952 and the new play When The Curtain Falls comes to the Southern Cross Theatre, bringing with it rising star Fawn Burrows. Stage door assistant Walter is quickly besotted by Fawn and the feeling soon becomes mutual. They snatch every moment they can together but someone is determined to get in the way of their happiness. Before they can break free, they are struck by the worst possible tragedy. Fast forward to the present day and a new cast arrives at Southern Cross ready to revive When The Curtain Falls. There is an immediate spark between leads Oscar and Olive, but both have been burnt before and both are filled with uncertainty. Haunted by ghostly mischief and their own doubts, they wonder if all hope is lost. However, real danger lurks in the wings and they soon realise that much more than their relationship is at stake.
I want to split this review into the first 80% of the book and the last 20%. The first 80% of the book is a solid 8/10. Magic and fantasy play a huge role in Carrie’s two previous novels and although that works well for them, I loved the fact that the magic is much more in the background until the end here. It’s less complicated and it allows the reader to focus on the human relationships. With two characters as insecure as Olive and Oscar, some of their arguments are frustrating. However, mostly it is lovely to see them try and work everything out, dealing with fame and social media and managing relationships with other company members. Equally, watching Walter and Fawn navigate the obstacles to their love story is exciting. It’s not the media machine they have to deal with, but an abusive boss. This adds a darker edge which balances out the plot well until towards the end.
Every author puts a piece of themselves into each novel, and I always look forward to seeing which elements of Carrie and her non-fiction content make it into the book. However, this time I found it difficult to separate Olive from Carrie on occasion. I think because it is set in a theatre, I felt like I was actually watching one of Carrie’s vlogs rather than reading a new work of fiction at times, which took the shine off it slightly.
Carrie released an album of the same name as the book earlier in the year and so many of the songs fit in perfectly with the story. I found many of them in my head while reading, but ‘You Matter to Me’ is the overall soundtrack for me, adding a wonderful extra ounce of romance.
Now to move on to the last 20% of the book. I always forget how weird and dark Carrie’s novel endings are! It takes me completely by surprise each time and When The Curtain Falls takes it way too far for me. I think that too many rape scenes/ chapters in popular culture are completely unnecessary and this isn’t an exception. It is quite crudely described and it could have been written a lot more sensitively. It is in Chapter 19 for anyone who would prefer to skip it. It knocked me sideways and put me in a terrible mood for reading the last few chapters which feature gun violence and suicide. I was very uncomfortable with how it all plays out. The whole conclusion just didn’t work for me at all. I was so disappointed! Having said that, I think a lot of readers will disagree with me and will relish the drama, tension and fantasy of the closing scenes.
It’s such a shame that a story that was for the most part so enjoyable affected me so badly! I will always love and support Carrie and I will definitely still read her new releases, but I will be going in with my guard up and proceeding a lot more cautiously in the future. If what I’ve written doesn’t bother you then go ahead and enjoy, but if alarm bells are ringing then do tread carefully. Most of When the Curtain Falls is applause-worthy, but the ending just tips the scales too far.
When The Curtain Falls is out now.