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BOOK REVIEW: Villa America

Liza Klaussmann's historical novel captures the decadence of the roaring 20s perfectly.

Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife created a sensation when she evoked the alcohol-fuelled, four-times married life of literary giant Ernest Hemingway. Liza Klaussmann is set to do the same for lesser known 1920s couple, Sara and modernist painter husband Gerald Murphy, whose Villa America on the French Riviera hosted expat parties for writers, artists and famed bohemians.
They were said to be the inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel Tender is the Night, and he and his wife Zelda, along with Pablo and Olga Picasso and Cole Porter, were among the Murphys’ cocktail set.
Drawing a new moth to their flame with fictional character Owen Chambers, a sexually ambiguous aviator, Klaussmann skilfully invites us to the much vaunted parties, too. A bumpkin boy of few words, Owen may be mocked by the literary set as “emotionally economical”, but the men and women swoon – he is built like “an inverted triangle”.
Tragedy lies ahead, but the golden days of magnificent men and their flying machines, raucous afternoons skinny dipping and heady hangovers are delicious.

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