Wednesday 26 October 2016

Fiction: Villa America by Liza Klaussmann

Picador, €10.99

Published 20/06/2016 | 02:30

Villa America by Liza Klaussmann
Villa America by Liza Klaussmann

Anyone with an interest in 1920s Europe and the creative geniuses who stalked its beaches and bars will fall for this. Liza Klaussmann, whose first novel Tigers in Red Weather demonstrated her talent for creating stifling, atmospheric stories has taken the riveting true tale of Gerald and Sara Murphy (several factual books have already been written about the couple) and fashioned it into a fascinating novel about love, lust and loss set against the sultry backdrop of the Cote D'Azur .

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The Murphys were wealthy, arty Americans (the inspiration for Dick and Nicole Diver in F Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night) whose cultivated, stylish way of living drew artists such as Picasso, Cole Porter and John Dos Passos to their glamorous home - the villa of the title - in Cap d'Antibes.

Klaussmann, who is a descendant of Herman Melville, recasts their biography in a mesmeric, beautifully written novel which features the fictional addition of Owen Chambers, a fighter pilot engaged to fly caviar from the Caspian Sea for their parties, who tests Gerald's ambivalent sexuality.

The extravagant players, the passions and the parties offer scope for some superb set pieces - Scott's boorish drunken antics, and a dance by Zelda Fitzgerald indicating her incipient madness are especially memorable. The Murphys inhabited a gilded world and when tragedy - both their sons became seriously ill - hit, everything imploded. As Fitzgerald wrote to them later; "The golden bowl is broken indeed, but it was golden".

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