Villa America by Liza Klaussmann
Publishing Date: August 4, 2015
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Pages: 432 pages
Historical Literary Fiction
The Premise: In this spellbinding and enchanting novel, comes a reimagining of Sara and Gerald Murphy who built Villa America, a paradise for artists and writers (such as F.Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and more) to come together for parties, debates on ideas and dinners. However, things take a turn when Owen Chambers, an aviator arrives at their doorstep. He finds himself drawn to the world of the Murphy's and the artists in a way similar to Nick Carraway in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. His presence affects the Murphy's in such an extraordinary way that ultimately shakes what they know and leaves things completely changed.
My overall thoughts and review: When I first read the premise of this book, I was instantly intrigued and excited because it was going to feature the Lost Generation. I did some research in my masters and the past few years in general on some of these individuals. Particularly, Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Stein. I just love them all so much. I was incredibly excited because the book was going to feature them, but not as the main protagonists. I have a problem with reading historical fiction that offers to reimagine an author that I have studied because once I've read the primary material, it is hard for me to situate myself into the author's depiction of that author. Villa America instead offers a reimagining of the real life Sara and Gerald Murphy, individuals I did not know much about until I read this book. The artists and writers of the Lost Generation were featured in the book but they were not the sole focus and I think that is one of the many reasons why I enjoyed Villa America so much. What Klaussmann does is offer the reader a different lens and gives them the "inside look" as opposed to the "from the outside looking in" perspective. For example, I didn't feel like she gave a different version of Fitzgerald compared to the Fitzgerald I know from his stories and my research about it, because she was so meticulous in accurately portraying him (and other writers and painters) but mainly because Sara, Gerald and Owen were the main focus. All the depictions of the various authors and painters were really well done and it was fun to see the name of someone I've studied every now and then (totally geeked out)!
One of my favorite things was seeing Sara and Gerald's relationship unfold from the beginning, especially the letters. Not only did their relationship flourish through the letters, but also their characters. I felt I really got more of a "true voice" through the letters which I really appreciated. Letters play a significant role in the text and they were definitely my favorite part of the text. I don't want to say anything that will spoil the text but what emerges is a narrative that I truly did not anticipate or expect. I was expecting much more about the Lost Generation, and I was genuinely pleased that they were a part of the narrative, but not the main subject. I think that fans of the Lost Generation will enjoy this book because it touches on themes of identity (!!!!!), loss and death, war, and family, while showcasing the artists and writers that you know and love. This was my first time reading something from Klaussmann and I'm extremely eager to head out the door and pick up a copy of Tigers in Red Weather next. I think if you enjoyed Tender is the Night by Fitzgerald, this is definitely one you should read. Also, to compare it to a more contemporary read, it reminded me of Paula Mclain's The Paris Wife, so I think if you were a fan of that text, you will definitely enjoy this one!
My rating of the book: ✮✮✮✮✮ (5/5 stars)
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Author Question and Answer
1) Since the book is based on the real-life F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is The Night, can one assume that the book is your favourite by Fitzgerald? If not, which one is?
I wouldn’t say that Villa America is based on Tender Is the Night -- but definitely the Murphys play a large role in the life of both novels. But yes, Tender Is the Night is my favorite of Fiztgerald’s books. The absolute tragic romance of that story has always attracted me and the writing is just so beautiful and so heartbreaking.Also, Fitzgerald intended Tender Is the Night to be his great American novel and when it flopped he was heartbroken and baffled. He struggled with the text for the rest of his life, ultimately reordering it and coming up with a completely different structure, which he endeavored to get Scribner’s to reissue, to no avail, at least not during his lifetime. So I think that as I writer myself I empathize with that struggle, with that experience of the novel never being finished, never being good enough.
2) Do you see connections between the Owen you portrayed in the book to Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby?
You know, I’d never thought about it before. But I suppose they both start out as observers and end up as actors in these dramas. But while Nick isn’t perhaps as wealthy as some of the other figures in The Great Gatsby, he is Daisy’s cousin and therefor of the same ilk, whereas Owen is really and truly an outsider.
On the other hand, I think a case be made for the idea of corruption of these “honest straightforward fellows,” who by the end up in a philosophical grey area.
3) Although the majority of the book occupies the beautiful setting of Villa America, it is very much tinged with the war front and the social and political problems of that time period. What is the one central message from this blending of boundaries (home front + war front) that you hope your readers walk away with when they finish the book?
Both of my novels -- Villa America and Tigers in Red Weather -- look at the post-war periods and the effect that that has on sexual mores. War is a great shifter and just where everything will end up when it’s over is always fascinating to me. As opposed to Tigers, I think Villa America looks more at the effect that war had on shifting ideas of masculinity. In many ways, the incredible destruction wrought by WWI unleashed this carpe diem hedonism, which allowed certain sexual practices that before had been more carefully conducted to then be more openly enjoyed. Still, there were huge swaths of people who still felt that they had to hide their sexual identity despite all the goings-on around them (they were illegal, after all), particular gay men who were considered in some circles more distasteful than gay women.
So I think the idea of war and home front is less of “boundary” and more of a cultural ecosystem, -- each one particular to its time -- and the one I’m looking at in Villa America has to do with a world that on the surface looks full of liberated indulgence (stemming from mass death), while underneath runs a hot a seam of Victorianism.
4) What do you set out to achieve when you write?
There is a laundry list, depending on what I’m working on, but I think Hemingway may have summed up it best (or at least the most economically, as was his wont) when he said “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write truest sentence you know.” I just want to write some that feels true.
5) And lastly, because I’ve been incredibly curious about this.. Who is your favourite artist from The Lost Generation? Oh, you know, I don’t really have one. I think they worked so well as a gang -- that’s the appeal this crazy group of frenemies fighting and drinking talking and working alongside each other. It’s the group dynamic -- they alchemy the make together -- that is is so sexy. Having said that, I really discovered the lovely personalities of John Dos Passos and Archie MacLeish while researching the novel, two figures -- and tow great writers -- that I hadn’t really known that much about prior to writing the book.
Thank you so much, Liza for answering these questions! :)
Ok everyone - so Penguin Random House has kindly offered to an additional copy of the book for giveaway. You will have to follow the Rafflecopter prompt below, but ultimately, you have to simply follow the blog (through one of the many outlets: Google friend connector, Google+, Bloglovin' or Email) and leave a comment on the blog post telling me why you want to read the book! The giveaway will be open for one week (It will close on August 12th) and the giveaway will be for CANADIAN READERS ONLY.
Disclaimer: An advanced reader's copy of this book was sent to me by Penguin Random House Canada for review for the blog tour. The blog tour also included the opportunity to interview the author. All opinions about the book are my own. The giveaway copy of the book will be kindly sent from Penguin Random House Canada directly to the winner.