Children of Paradise by Camilla Grudova

Children of Paradise is a novel about the strange world of an ageing cinema and the people who work there. The protagonist moves to a new city and applies for a job at the Paradise, an old cinema, where she has to deal with popcorn spills, horrible toilets, and getting used to the weird coworkers who won’t talk to her. When she’s finally invited to socialise with and get to know the other employees, she discovers the secrets of the run-down cinema, from what they do with lost property to rumours of a secret second screen. But it isn’t just the haunting corridors that loom, but also the thread of corporate takeover.

This book draws you into a surreal world, full of eerie moments and the realities of customer service drudgery. Told in the first person, it has an atmosphere that is mostly realistic, but with lingering moments of unreality, and you never quite know if the Paradise holds more secrets than it seems. The sense of place in the cinema is very visceral, not only the faded glamour but the rituals, the employee drug taking and the rats and the gone-off snacks, and it paints quite a picture of the horrors both of run-down decadence and soulless corporate takeover that still doesn’t actually make the place any less in disrepair.

Displaying both eerie location-based horror and customer service hell, Children of Paradise is an atmospheric novel suffused with film history that shows how the past and present might coexist or clash, all in the space of a single cinema. It’s gripping and perfect for anyone who likes unnerving stories in which a place is one of the characters.