Villa America – Liza Klaussmann

Title – Villa America

Author – Liza Klaussmann

Published – 2016

Genre – Historical fiction

I saw Liza Klaussmann talking about her book alongside Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott (author of Swan Song) at the Cheltenham Literary Festival last year and had to add it to my wishlist for Chirstmas (and many thanks to Mr Novel Heights for buying it for me).

Like Swan Song this is a fictional take on real events, although in this case there is more on the ‘fiction’ side. ‘Villa America’ is the name of the villa built by husband and wife Gerald and Sara Murphy, in Cap d’Antibes. Their presence heralded the fashion for spending the summer (and not just the winter) on the French Riviera and introduced sunbathing as a fashionable activity. The circles they moved in (or rather, that appear to have moved around them) included Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Pablo Picasso, Archibald MacLeish, Cole Porter, Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley.

In ‘Villa America’ the author tells the story of the couple’s relationship (they married in 1915) with the bulk of the story taking place in the period between the two World Wars. To the framework of the historical records about the lives of the Murphy’s and their guests Klaussmann has fleshed out a pilot who flew in caviar for them and he (Owen) becomes the representation of Gerald’s struggles with his sexuality.

By creating the character of Owen, Klaussmann has given herself the opportunity to explore a huge ‘what if’ in the lives of the Murphys and weaves that extra dimension into their story. Told from multiple perspectives it’s the story of how the relationships shift within the marriage as Gerald develops a bond with Owen. While much of the book is a story of excess and glamour Gerald Murphy’s character is torn by the duality of his love life and as the Depression hits so very personal tragedies take their toll on the Murphys. It’s not a story with a happy ending!

Gerald became an artist during his time in France and it’s been interesting to see some of the paintings referred to in the book. Of course having read the book first I have to remind myself that the pictures existed before the author started the book and not the other way round! And Sara herself was something of a muse for Picasso.

Yet another book that sends me off in a new direction for my reading, I should add Tender is the Night (F. Scott Fitzgerald is said to have based the characters of Dick and Nicole Diver on the Murphy’s) and the couple are also possibly referenced by Hemingway in The Garden of Eden. I should probably also go back to Mrs Hemingway  to see how this perspective fits with Villa America.

An enjoyable read and one ideal for reading on a hot and sunny beach.

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