Villa America by Liza Klaussmann
A couple of summers ago I reviewed Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann. I still vividly remember the day I spent on the couch at the cottage reading that book – the “almost trashy” story of two cousins and the drama of their lives. It was one of those books you disappear into, surfacing for food and drink, and getting right back to it.
Liza Klaussmann is back with a new novel Villa America and this one is as good, and better, as her first. She has turned her attention to Sara and Gerald Murphy, wealthy Americans who made their home on the Riviera after the First World War, where they ran with a set that included Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest and Hadley Hemingway and others of their ilk. Gerald Murphy grew up in rather unhappy circumstances – no lack of money, but much lack of love. His marriage to Sara – almost at her best before date – became the best thing that could have happened to either of them, at least at first. They were the glue that held this group together – their lavish parties, their willingness to help their friends with more talent but fewer resources than their own.
You will come to genuinely care for this couple and their family - and their lives are entirely fascinating. Their life on the Riviera is good for many years, until the financial collapse of 1929 comes at the same time as personal tragedy.
Anyone who has read about Ernest Hemingway and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald – in the biographies and novels of historical fiction - will probably have found some mention of Gerald Murphy as a sort of “hanger on” to this illustrious group. But in fact, he and his wife seem to have been at the centre, and genuinely loved by all. Their marriage was the envy of the others who had much more dramatic lives and various affairs and scandals while the Murphys carried on a calm and managed life.
Liza Klaussmann explores the dark corners, the closed closets, the paths not taken that could have turned this carefully arranged life upside down. At the end of the book much is explained to the reader about what is true – and what is not – about the people in the novel. I was disappointed to find that a character I found so compelling – and perhaps the most interesting of them all – was in fact simply made up as a vehicle to move forward a particular part of the story.
The author suggests some further reading for those who are interested in the facts behind this fiction – so you may find yourself having a very great time exploring the world of Gatsby and the Fitzgeralds, and Hemingway and his first couple of wives along with Dorothy Parker and Gerald and Sara Murphy.