August 4th 2015
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Biographical, Family Life, Literary
ARC provided by Hatchette Books, Little Brown Books
A dazzling novel set in the French Riviera based on the real-life inspirations for F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is The Night.
When Sara Wiborg and Gerald Murphy met and married, they set forth to create a beautiful world together-one that they couldn't find within the confines of society life in New York City. They packed up their children and moved to the South of France, where they immediately fell in with a group of expats, including Hemingway, Picasso, and Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald.
On the coast of Antibes they built Villa America, a fragrant paradise where they invented summer on the Riviera for a group of bohemian artists and writers who became deeply entwined in each other's affairs. There, in their oasis by the sea, the Murphys regaled their guests and their children with flamboyant beach parties, fiery debates over the newest ideas, and dinners beneath the stars.
It was, for a while, a charmed life, but these were people who kept secrets, and who beneath the sparkling veneer were heartbreakingly human. When a tragic accident brings Owen, a young American aviator who fought in the Great War, to the south of France, he finds himself drawn into this flamboyant circle, and the Murphys find their world irrevocably, unexpectedly transformed.
A handsome, private man, Owen intrigues and unsettles the Murphys, testing the strength of their union and encouraging a hidden side of Gerald to emerge. Suddenly a life in which everything has been considered and exquisitely planned becomes volatile, its safeties breached, the stakes incalculably high. Nothing will remain as it once was.
Liza Klaussman expertly evokes the 1920s cultural scene of the so-called "Lost Generation." Ravishing and affecting, and written with infinite tenderness, VILLA AMERICA is at once the poignant story of a marriage and of a golden age that could not last.
Villa America is a book based on the real characters of Tender is the Night by Scott Fitzgerald. In fact, everyone in this book is based on actual history, except for the pilot Owen. I so wish I had known this before I picked it up. (yea, I just skimmed the summary before i started reading this, i do that sometimes) I only discovered that halfway through the reading. I don’t think the summary does a good enough job of conveying that this is a book based upon the people who influenced another book(s). That piece of information explains the timeline jumps and quirks of characters.
This book focuses in on the lives of Gerald and Sara Murphy. They were a real life couple: rich, and well liked. They were the good friends of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, the Picassos, John Dos Passos and Archibald MacLeish: the cream of the 1920s arts world. From their humble beginnings to the tragedy that defined them, this story is like a tell-all, with a twist. Gerald was a well known cubist style painter, but he sometimes referred to his “defect”. In Villa America we explore a taboo romance that might have been what he was referring to.
As I mentioned earlier, the timeline jumps from year to year. The book starts in 1898 and goes through 1937. It skips a few years in between there. The story highlights the main events of these two characters. The distinction between actual events and fiction is blurry in this story. The author has included letters and dialogue, along with well scripted scenes. This story is beautifully written. The reader can follow Sara and Gerald from their first meeting into their established relationship. The title is the name of their home in France, Villa America. They don’t get Villa America until a little past the halfway mark, so we get a lot of back-story. From a historical perspective, this was a very interesting tale. The world changed so much over the 40 years or so years covered in this tale, and the people of this time were much different. Sometimes referred to as a “the greatest generation”, this was a great and terrible time to be alive.
The introduction of the character of Owen, a pilot, changes everything for the Murphys. His wounded past and observing nature makes him a very popular figure in their society. The speculation of his true nature unproved. The Murphy’s wrap him into their fold and he changes everything for them.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Sara and Gerald were very interesting people and it is no wonder that they have been mentioned in so many people’s timelines. The Author’s Note clears everything up and gives more food for thought about the real people that inspire this, and few other fantastic reads.