Villa America by Liza Klaussmann


It was golden nonetheless. 

About Villa America by Liza Klaussmann: A dazzling novel set in the Cap D'Antibes based on the real-life inspirations for Fitzgerald's Tender is The Night.

In this gorgeous, glamorous, and affecting novel, Liza Klaussmann does for Sara and Gerald Murphy what Paula McLain and Michael Cunningham did for Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf in The Paris Wife and The Hours. Villa America was in fact a real house on the French Riviera that Sara and Gerald Murphy built to escape to in the 1920s. Members of a group of expat Americans, they were known for their fabulous parties and for making the Riviera into the glamorous place it is today. Their freewheeling days were filled with champagne and caviar, but these were people who kept secrets and who were, of course, heartbreakingly human.

This is a stunning story about the Lost Generation, about a marriage, about a golden age which could not last.


My two cents

Pablo Picasso's "Femme assise le bras croises"
believed to be a portrait of  Sara Murphy
I adored Klaussmann's debut novel Tigers in Red Weather so I was eager to see what she would come up with next. I'm not surprised that not only was this written beautifully, but she's managed to capture the tremendous sadness and heartbreak of the Lost Generation, the generation which came of age during the First World War. This is peopled, fascinatingly by well-known personalities of the 1920s literary and arts scene, including Sara and Gerald Murphy, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and his wife Zelda, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

This fictionalized story focuses on the Murphys' love affair which inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night, as well as the charmed atmosphere they created and the numerous connections they had made during their heyday on Cap d'Antibes in southern France.

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What I loved 

How existential it feels. When I finished this book, I could only sigh, and very deeply. Live life to the fullest - it's cliche that really rings true. This is a story that reads like Ecclestiastes, underscoring the truth that everything has a time and all good things must come to an end. But at the same time I love the fact that the book celebrates how alive everyone was that you can practically feel the energy behind the characters, particularly the compelling Sara.

Sara and Gerald Murphy. Photo from MOMA.
Real people you can actually relate to. You know how name dropping can really overshadow a good story? Not so here as I found the characters not romanticized as the personalities that we've come to hear about, but as multi-dimensional characters with rather complex backstories. I totally bought into Gerald Murphy's sad moneyed childhood, Sara's socialite upbringing, and their celebrated love story. I also enjoyed how it was depicted that Picasso would look at Sara with admiring eyes and one eventually finds her form many of his paintings (like the one here). And this shed light on the Hemingway partnership depicting a lonely Zelda and an oblivious drunkard Hemingway.

Never mind they were rich and famous, they had pretty interesting lives as people in general. This delves into defining moments in childhood, love and marriage, the joys and sorrows of having children, illness and death.

Interesting fill-in-the-blank in the plot. There is one specific plot line that really surprised me. The storytelling is such that you make your own little deductions as the pages keep turning. I was blindsided but it made total sense in the end, and it is a tragedy that can play itself out in anyone's life. I will let you discover it yourself!

Uh-ohs

If you hate the meandering descriptions of milieu in Anna Karenina, you may find some of the descriptions in this tedious. The laying down of backstories is quite drawn out so if you dislike that level of detail with little action, it can feel like there isn't much happening.

I mentioned there is some deduction involved for a reader. This vagueness is obviously intentional but when you're first reading it, you can either pick up on it, or get seriously annoyed when the puzzle piece eventually falls into place.

There are multiple voices telling the story in first person. I admit that there are times where that makes it confusing, or feel jumpy.


Verdict: Filled with gorgeous descriptions of the coasts of Cap d'Antibes in southern France, art and literary musings of Picasso and Fitzgerald, and a feeling of a being in the inner circle of the charmed Murphys, this existentialist historical fiction tale will be sure to intrigue those of you who are familiar with these real life people or those who love 1920s art and literature.

I already loved Klaussman the first time I read her and I love her even more for this novel. What else will she come up with?

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher for honest review consideration.


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© guiltless readingMaira Gall