REVIEW: The Star and the Strange Moon by Constance Sayers
A vanished star. A haunted film. A mystery only love can unravel…
1968: Gemma Turner once dreamed of stardom. Now the actress is on the cusp of obscurity. When she’s offered the lead in a radical new horror film, Gemma believes her luck has changed—but her dream is about to turn into a nightmare. One night, between the shadows of an alleyway, Gemma disappears on set and is never seen again. Yet, Gemma is alive. She’s been pulled into the film. And the script—and the monsters within it—are coming to life. Gemma must play her role perfectly if she hopes to survive.
2007: Gemma Turner’s disappearance is one of Hollywood’s greatest mysteries—one that’s captivated film student Christopher Kent ever since he saw L’Étrange Lune for the first time. The screenings only happen once a decade and each time there is new, impossible footage of Gemma that shouldn’t exist. Curiosity drives Christopher to unravel the truth. But answers to the film’s mystery may leave him trapped by it forever.
CW/TW – alcoholism and drug use by a parent, child neglect, emotional abuse, suicide, sexism, riot, institutionalization of a parent, death of a parent, mentions of miscarriage, unwanted sexual advances, gore, and violence.
Dear Ms. Sayers,
Here I am again, trying something different and not entirely sure whether it worked for me or not. I enjoyed parts of this book, didn’t like others, and in the end, had to keep reminding myself that it’s a bad horror film, wrapped in a dual-timeline story. Would I read it again? Probably not. Did I want answers and did I read all the way through to get them? Yes, I did. I’ll add one thing to the blurb and specify that heroine Gemma is pulled into the movie as if she’s living in the set which is now real.
I liked the descriptions given – especially for the 1968 part of the story. The information that Gemma’s physical appearance was inspired by French actress Francoise Dorleac helped me visualize her. I could see Gemma getting her start in early 60s California beach films and tiring of the genre, as her desire to try her hand at scriptwriting grew. Was a French director, trying to make an improved (French) version of a Hammer horror film without actually having ever seen a horror film, any more receptive to this than the male rulers of Hollywood? Of course not. Gemma’s over-the-top self involved rockstar lover fit right in with the other drug taking British singers of the late 60s.
The opening of the story threw me for a loop though. Who was this ten year old boy whose job it seemed to be to take care of his drug taking, mental health issues challenged mother? Well, that took a while to figure out. As a character later told Christopher, everything was carefully thought and planned out. I’m not sure I would have wanted to date an adult Christopher as obsessed as he was with this strange film that was only shown every ten years to a select group of people who were supposed to be acting under a bizarre series of rules. Would those rules really work? Well, obviously not as Christopher and Elizabeth (plus a few others) went full bore “conspiracy theory” about the film. How strange all this was was perfectly encapsulated by the scene when Christopher bores the pants off of a cousin and their dates as he did a deep dive into the various nutjob trains of thought on L’Estrange Lune. I could almost see the three of them slowly backing away from him.
The romance? Eh, I didn’t think so. It’s more obsession and Gemma meeting up with a male who isn’t a total wank loser. In fact the more I thought about it, the creepier it got. As a child with a sad backstory, Christopher was pitiable but as an adult he was bland and blah but fixated. His “nearest and dearest” thought that Christopher was dangerously obsessed (there’s just no other word that fits as well) with the film and I found I agreed with them. It was unhealthy and the fact that he himself realized that no one would miss him if he disappeared? Yeah.
Who did I like the best? That would be Gemma who tried to advance her film career beyond Beach Blanket Bingo and twice got tossed into the deep end of a shit show – the first when she arrived and began filming of L’Estrange Lune. in the face of many who denigrated her and the second when what happened, happened. She kept her head above water and managed to claw agency out of it, even in the face of some shameless victim blaming.
Right … so the film. When I read something in the 1870s “Amboise” section of the book (when Gemma is trapped inside the film) that set off my klaxon alarms of historical inaccuracy it helped me peel myself off the ceiling by thinking, “Just remember, it’s a film. It’s supposed to be a bad horror film that’s being reshot. Historical authenticity has no place in it. We’re talking “Hollywood authenticity” is good enough.” That helped as well with the horror scenes because the vampires veered between laughable and gross. Hitting the end though, was full on euwww though the final bits answered the main questions about the whole set up.
Still, the way the “how did all this get started” was explained was just another section of villain exposition or telling instead of showing which added to all the other instances of information being conveyed in slightly irritating ways. The villain magically typing answers to Gemma?? Was there a better way to make sure readers had all the necessary information? Surely so. I also thought that tightening or eliminating some scenes (Gemma goes to 1878 Paris!) would have moved things along. There was way too much unnecessary description of the places and clothes. The arc I read also had a lot of typos that I hope were fixed. And yet, there I was, reading until the end to discover “what next” so it did work for me on some level. I just wish Gemma had been left with her own agency to triumph over both the villains who got her into that mess. C