Liza Klaussmann’s novel promises to be a good read, a fictional depiction of Gerald and Sara Murphy, the golden couple who hosted, among others, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway in their French villa and appeared as characters in various novels as a result. It did not disappoint. Klaussmann’s prose, like her main characters, sparkles with exuberance: “It was love, the rip-roaring, ecstatic, rejoicing, fear-inducing, all-consuming kind”. While the prologue (and history) makes it clear that the ending will not be a happy one, it is easy to get caught up in the exuberance and the parties, making the denouement all the more painful and bittersweet.
The only criticism I had of Villa America is the fact that the characters, and Gerald in particular, do not appear to develop but instead react to each event in the moment. As a young boy, Gerald shows great determination: “he followed it through to the end, because that’s how things get done”. But afterwards, there is no further reference to the event or to Gerald’s determination. In later life, Gerald does not appear particularly determined at all. Likewise, Sara is concerned that she is unmarriageable, but is much sought after in later life. The older Sara does not, as one might expect, reflect on this change in circumstances. Indeed, Sara is somewhat of an enigma throughout. This may be a consequence of writing a novel based on history; Klaussmann is aware that certain events happened in her characters’ lives, and includes them in her novel, but does not know the cause or effect of those events, and so they remain separate and distinct from one another. However, this is a minor criticism of an otherwise excellent novel that added greatly to my knowledge of the European lives of the Lost Generation.