I must preface this by mentioning that I have an enormous amount of respect for authors. I am well aware of how much work is involved in producing a work of fiction or non. I don’t feel good at all about writing anything negative about someone’s hard work, but here I go.
I didn’t like this novel.
Villa America follows the trend of fictional novels based on real 20th century figures like Loving Frank and The Paris Wife. It tells the story of Sara and Gerald Murphy who were at the center of the American expatriate social scene in the south of France during the 1920s. They are the perfect subjects for this genre, as they were incredible muses who were once well known, but have since been lost behind the art they inspired.
The story begins with Gerald and Sarah’s childhoods, courtship, and then their idyllic life on the Riviera surrounded by their famous and wealthy artistic friends: the Fitzgerald’s, the Picassos, the Hemingway’s, just to name a few. At the same time, a new player is introduced – the fictional Owen, an untouchable, stoic war hero who’s sexual awakening as a young man cost him everything (to be read in a dramatic movie trailer voice). After his career as a WW1 flying ace, he makes his living as a pilot, running errands around Europe for the Murphy’s and their neighbors. It is Owen that creates a wedge in what appears to be their happy marriage.
It’s the addition of Owen that really turned me off of this story. He felt random; one dimensional and just didn’t quite fit in the narrative, other than to create imaginary contention in the Murphy’s story. It seemed unnecessary when there is so much potential for conflict and crisis within their real life circle of friends. It’s been well documented that Ernest Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald both had crushes on Sara and Picasso was so enamored by her that he painted at least half a dozen paintings of her. Gerald had his share of admirers, as well, including men; I’m sure, as Gerald’s homosexuality (which from what I understand is only speculated, for the most part, in real life) is the arching plot of this story.
I also found the novel a bit disjointed and busy. There were too many historical references, spanning a long timeline, along with too many supporting characters and Inconsequential details about them that didn’t seem to have anything to do with the story.
Overall, I was looking for a novel that would, even from a fictional perspective, help me connect to the Murphy’s and understand more about what made this couple so inspiring to the people they spent time with. However, the fabricated interloper, choppy timeline, and too many supporting characters that didn’t really help drive their story left me wanting.