In the 1930s, fishing for giant tuna was all the rage amongst the fast set. In 1934, we’re told, Scarborough is hosting a tuna-fishing contest sponsored by Johnny Fastolf, a dissolute English aristo, which is to be attended by various celebs, including Zane Grey and Martha Gellhorn but not, alas, Ernest Hemingway. Most glamorous of all, however, is Fastolf’s yacht Dazzle, resplendent in stripes of black, blue and white. As the dilettantes, high on dope, dance in and out of each others’ beds and the fishing contest between Grey and wealthy Englishman Lorenzo Mitchell-Henry is played out in the hostile North Sea, it becomes apparent that behind all the dazzle (get it?) dangers lurk in the form of sex, death, espionage and a mysterious Chinese drug baron who may or may not be Chinese and may not even exist.
The Dazzle is clever, playful, preposterous, and amusing in parts. The writing sparkles. But I didn’t take to any of the characters and struggled to finish the story, which Gellhorn says she feels compelled to write about in order to convince herself it was really happening. ‘(Is writing another way to tame the confusion?)’ she asks parenthetically in a letter. ‘(Or is it just another distortion?)’ Quite.