I fell deeply in love with this evocative cover. A haunting photo of a villa on the edge of the French Riviera. VILLA AMERICA is a real villa; the one that was so famously featured in the novel ,TENDER IS THE NIGHT, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
I asked myself if there was any room left for more of the Lost Generation. I truly was not sure. In fact, I will say with all honesty that I did not believe there was. It’s not that I wasn’t interested. I was fearful it had already been told. Well, I was wrong.
The novel begins with the end. It’s 1935. A young pilot’s body has been pulled from the sea after his plane broke apart and crashed off the coast of Antibes. Owen Chamber’s funeral was small as only a few locals and a mechanic who worked with him attended. Not much was known about him except that he was an American who had fought as a pilot in the Great War. Some remembered he’d been a part of the artists scene on the Cotes d’Azur before those from the Lost Generation scattered back to their home.
On this same day, in Boston, Baoth Murphy stopped breathing. He was the fifteen-year-old son of Gerald and Sara Murphy.
Then we go back in time and learn about Owen Chamber’s childhood. And we discover how he became a pilot. We also learn how Sara and Gerald became a couple. And who they really were.
This sparkling novel set in the French Riviera is based on the couple who were the real-life inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel TENDER IS THE NIGHT. The villa was real. The characters were real. The story is almost, just almost real, too.
Sara and Gerald Murphy were NYC socialites. But they were searching for much more than they were finding in America. So they gathered up their three children and moved to the South of France. Quickly, they were surrounded by those now wildly famous beautiful people: Hemingway, Picasso, Dos Passos and others. The Murphy’s built Villa America, and the others came.
Villa America is a huge part of the story. In fact, another character one might say. It was built for entertaining. The kind of entertaining rarely experienced since then. Oh, the parties. The lavish spreads with caviar flown in from afar to celebrate the arrival of the Hemingways. And the over-the-top beach parties where everyone drank too much and lived too large. The excitement. The happy children. And the dinner parties that almost always ended up being drunken forays. I kept asking myself if any of them “really” worked.
Along with the celebrations and the happiness came secrets and challenges to married life. This story is about a marriage: Sara and Gerald’s. But it’s also about lifestyle and change. And tolerance. It’s beautifully written and compelling. I have been stopped in my tracks by strangers looking at the cover of the book as I’ve been reading it.
Liza Klaussmann says the story is about love. And I would have to say it’s all kinds of love. Love of children, love of spouse, love of friends, and love of amid entanglement. And how quickly everything can change.
I loved reading about the food, the parties, the records played on the gramophone. The house made me happy. I wanted to be there. However, all this wonderment did not end well. And this novel turns out to be a tragedy. One I believe will be talked about for a long time to come.
My review copy came from Little Brown. Thanks so much!