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Villa America

In Uncategorized on October 17, 2015 at 8:33 pm

The Literary Epicurean Book Club Selection

October 16, 2015

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by Liza Klaussmann

Book Description (Courtesy of Goodreads):

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 1920’s. 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 Thoughts:

I was taken with the quality of writing from the first line and appreciated it all the way through the book. First and foremost, it is beautifully written. For most of the beginning of the book, though, I had a hard time caring about the characters (it didn’t help, I am sure, that I didn’t know much about the real Sara and Gerald Murphy), as well as getting past the recounting of their privileged, bohemian existence. It was all very frivolous at first, but then it got more complicated. As it did, I got drawn into all the drama and gained a better appreciation for the progress of their relationship from beginning to end. Their story also gave some insight into the true characters of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, as well as Ernest Hemingway. With the historical insight into the era and some of its famous artists and its French Riviera setting, it made for a very interesting read.

Favorite quote: “Sara was ‘the chic one”, Hoytie was “dark and refined, while the youngest sister, Olga was “the delicate beauty.” These words felt like intricately made corsets, squeezing them into arranged shapes, pinching at the sides where they met resistance.”

Book Club Discussion:

Our discussion started with many observations about the author’s writing style. One member commented on how she carefully wove Gerald’s and Owen’s stories together with her masterful use of foreshadowing. Another member had high praise for how the author included the fictional character Owen with the real and famous people in a way that didn’t look forced and added great dimension to the story. The only negative comment we had was how the book ended. We thought the last chapter was somewhat disappointing and a total disconnect. We just didn’t quite understand why the author didn’t just choose to end with the letters.

Then there were the characters! Most members found Sara to be the most interesting. One member dubbed her the Mother Earth of the group. However, we would have appreciated more character development explaining her transition from the younger, somewhat weird Sara to the older, more sophisticated and popular Sara. We were impressed with how creative she was with her parties and would have loved to have been guests at any one of them, especially the beach one. She fit into the Golden Age quite well! Of course, we all enjoyed the famous characters from the era being part of the story. Having read about Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds in past book club selections, we appreciated the added perspective from this book. Zelda was a bit of a puzzle for us. Was her issue mental illness, alcohol, and/or insecurity with her husband’s affairs? This question prompted one member to Google for more information (always a sign of a good book she said!). She found that Zelda had been confined to a mental institution, where she died in a fire at age 47. She had been diagnosed as having schizophrenia, but most likely would have been diagnosed as bipolar today. As we continued on to discuss some of the scenes with these characters, one member noted that creative people had a hard time fitting in, most likely the price of being creative. Another wondered how, with all these layers to them, did they ever find time to write!!

As for Gerald and Owen, we were all sympathetic to their sad early lives and were glad they were able to find some semblance of happiness at least for a time. There was no way it could last, of course, since Gerald valued his relationship with Sara. One member noted how that relationship seemed to be accepted by the group, if not by society. In some ways, they were way ahead of the times. We found that interesting.

All in all, we enjoyed the book. We loved the time period and found it reminiscent of the movie Midnight in Paris, as well as parts of other books we have read about Fitzgerald and Hemingway (The Paris Wife, for one). One member suggested that we might have gained a deeper insight if we had read Tender is the Night prior to reading this book. Of course, it is also possible for us to get a better understanding of Tender is the Night having now read this book. I see a future book club selection  here!

Book Club Rating: 4.5++/5 Stars

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Book Club French Provence Menu

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Selection of Cheeses, Olives, and Mixed Crudities with Olive-Anchovy Aioli

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Spinach and White Bean Salad with Bacon and Caramelized Onions

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Provencal Lamb Daube

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Simplest Chocolate Honey Mousse

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