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Chaplin & Company: A Novel

Chaplin & Company: A Novel

by Mave Fellowes

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A coming-of-age tale brimming with charm, heartache, and the peculiar magic of London's canals.

When eighteen-year-old Odeline Milk is left orphaned by her mother, she takes her small inheritance and leaves her sleepy hometown behind in search of a lifestyle better suited to her artistic temperament. She moves to London to pursue her single-minded dream of


A coming-of-age tale brimming with charm, heartache, and the peculiar magic of London's canals.

When eighteen-year-old Odeline Milk is left orphaned by her mother, she takes her small inheritance and leaves her sleepy hometown behind in search of a lifestyle better suited to her artistic temperament. She moves to London to pursue her single-minded dream of becoming, of all things, a great mime in the tradition of Charlie Chaplin and Marcel Marceau.

But like many a solitary wanderer before her, Odeline finds that the London of her imagination isn’t quite consistent with the reality. To save money she moves onto a longboat, auspiciously named Chaplin and Company, in London’s canal neighborhood of Little Venice. There she stumbles upon a peculiar underbelly of the city, full of marginalized, eccentric figures. A stern young woman, Odeline is serious about her art and uninterested in forming what she considers to be distracting new relationships. But little by little, Odeline begins to form unpredictable alliances with those around her—the beleaguered illegal immigrant, the handsome vagabond, and the vulnerable old drunk. Before she knows it, Odeline becomes an essential part of this community of outsiders, discovering the value of companionship and, more important, the depths of her own courage.

Extraordinary newcomer Mave Fellowes travels gracefully between Odeline's story and those of the lost souls around her, charting the course of each one’s haunted past and their halting progress toward redemption. With astonishing empathy, Fellowes shows that everyone has a story, and sometimes loneliness itself is what connects us to each other. An endearing and surprisingly steely debut that paints the bizarre and the ordinary with equal sincerity, Chaplin & Company is a novel that reveals beauty in the most unlikely of places.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Odeline Milk is the daughter of an eccentric English mother and a clown/acrobat who was just passing through town with the circus. After her mother's death and following an unsuccessful stint as a teenage magician, Odeline moves to London to live on a canal boat named Chaplin & Company. In London, she dresses like Charlie Chaplin when performing (she wants to be a mime like her hero, Marcel Marceau) and meets a motley group of oddballs and troubled souls who eventually come together as a community of sorts when one of their number, a refugee from Eastern Europe, needs their help. VERDICT Though first-time novelist Fellowes shows a good deal of imagination, there are some problems with the story. The novel begins quite slowly, picking up steam about halfway through; characters are introduced and then dropped; and the plot could be more tightly woven. But while it may not be to everyone's taste, this offbeat tale of loners and eccentrics who live on the old canals of London has a certain quirky charm.—Leslie Patterson, Rehoboth, MA
Publishers Weekly
British author Fellowes’s quirky debut centers around eccentric but plucky Odeline Milk, who at 18, following the death of her mother, Eunice, decides to leave the suffocating London homestead that’s stifling her “artistic temperament.” Odeline uses money from her mother’s life insurance policy to purchase Chaplin and Company, a faded but well-appointed canal houseboat, hoping to thereby jump-start the new life she’s long desired, which involves becoming a professional mime and reuniting with her estranged father, Odelin, a clown in a travelling circus. Odeline’s colorful odyssey is complicated by a gaggle of misfits just as eccentric as she is. They include shady Albanian thug Zjelko; hard-drinking canal warden John Kettle; Ridley, a heavily-tattooed canal neighbor; and kindhearted Vera Novak, a waitress at Zjelko’s cafe, whose compassion eases Odeline into some difficult life lessons. The author masterfully threads the boat’s tangled history into her heroine’s own melodramatic story, which, once Fellowes finds her narrative footing, features a panoply of unlikely escapades and underworld intrigue. Fellowes’s first novel is amiably entertaining and, though it is light in tone, it artfully explores themes of friendship, independence, and growing pains with depth, compassion, and plenty of good cheer. Agent: Alice Lutyens, Curtis Brown. (June)
Sarah McCoy
“A stylish coming-of-age debut that defies the expected and thoroughly entertains. Imagine Green Gables as a ramshackle houseboat in London's Grand Union Canal community; the quirky orphan as a modern cross between Anne Shirley and Oliver Twist. This is Mave Fellowes's charming Chaplin & Company. Just the kind of novel I love—one that weaves the past and present, the mysterious and magical, the real and dreamed into a harmonious, unforgettable storyscape.”
Laura van den Berg
“Mave Fellowes's Chaplin & Company is a beguiling portrait of Odeline Milk's search for something more. As Odeline navigates everything from the eccentric inhabitants of a canal neighborhood in London to the jagged pains of loss to the world of mimes, she proves to be just the kind of heroine I crave: gutsy, smart, funny, haunted, and a little unpredictable. I will never forget Little Venice, the canal neighborhood where our heroine finds herself, or Odeline's place in it. A magical debut.”
The Times (London)
“[A] deeply quirky and very charming first novel. Fellowes transforms the drab towpath into a magical secret world.”
Now Magazine
“An offbeat and magical look at London that’s completely captivating. The descriptions of the city are so vivid, it's as if you're seeing them for the first time.”
Kirkus Reviews
A slow-moving novel—perhaps appropriate since much of it takes place on a narrow boat moored in London's Little Venice neighborhood—ultimately driven by characters...and charming they can be. At the center is Odeline Milk, an artiste and illusionist who aspires to become a mime. She has an impressive collection of books by and about Marcel Marceau, some in French, a language she doesn't even understand. Her mother, Eunice, had a brief fling with Odelin, a clown with the Cirque Maroc, when the circus passed through Arundel, in southern England, years before, and it comes as no surprise that he is Odeline's father. Shortly after Eunice's death, Odeline moves to London to try to earn a living as a mime; she takes up residence on the narrow boat, appropriately called Chaplin & Company, though not named after that Chaplin—it turns out that its builder, whom we meet briefly in a flashback to the 1930s, was named Walter Chaplin. She meets an assortment of other wayfarers, vagabonds, political refugees and alcoholics, chief among them John Kettle, warden for the Little Venice Marina; Vera, a foreigner who works at the local barge cafe; and Ridley, the easygoing master of the narrow boat Saltheart. Odeline has a gig in Covent Garden, the theater district, but it turns out that the venue is actually a pub. The performance falls flat, though by the end of the novel, Odeline finds some success with a more receptive audience: children. Meanwhile, she decides to search for her father the clown, whom she's idealized over the years. When they link up at the Cirque Maroc, she heartbreakingly realizes that, throughout her life, she's surrounded him with an aura of illusion. Fellowes drives the novel at a leisurely pace and lets the characters unfold gradually and quirkily until we get to know them well.

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Liveright Publishing Corporation
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Meet the Author

Mave Fellowes has an MA in creative writing, and her stories have appeared in Granta and other publications. She lives in London with her husband and son.

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