‘When Sara Wiborg and Gerald Murphy decided to get married, they set out to create a beautiful world.’
Published in 2015 by Picador, this novel is set against the backdrop of The Lost Generation in Antibes in the 1920’s. It starts off as a love story that develops between Sara & Gerald, both coming from completely different backgrounds, religion being one of them. Neither’s parents are happy with the match but love wins out eventually and the stories of excess & flamboyance that we associate with that era are extolled through the life of the Murphy’s.
They were the power couple that made the French Rivieria THE place for the rich, the artists, the writers,the musicians and the playboys. It was a time when Scott & Zelda (Fitzgerald), Pablo & Olga, Ernest & Hadley (Hemingway), Dorothy (Parker) and many more of that generation gathered in Villa America, the beautiful home created by Sara & Gerald for themselves & their three children.
Everyone loved the Murphys, as Zelda says “Don’t you want them to adopt you? Scott and I do. They’re so comforting.”
But Liza Klaussmann introduces us to a fictional character in the book, Owen. He is an intense young man who has already been through a war. He is a pilot who sets up a base on Antibes, but he also is a young man fighting against his sexuality. There is, from the beginning, a connection between Owen & Gerald Murphy and I suppose this is where we see the cracks of the Murphy’s perfect marriage appear.
Mixed with the fiction are many facts about the Murphy family. We witness the good times but we also get a glimpse of what lay beneath the surface. Not everyone approved of the lifestyle they led. As Gerald, when on a trip to Venice, recalls a previous comment made by Sara “I smell a whiff of that unpleasant odor….Eau de Disapproval.”
Sara & Gerald Murphy have been mentioned in other books I have read about the Fitzgeralds & Hemingways, but this is the first novel where I truly discovered the tragedies that befell them during the 1930’s. The world as they knew it fell apart & their lives and those of the The Lost Generation changed forever.
Gerald expresses his feelings about the marriage in a letter he writes to Owen in 1935 ‘It is the strange alchemy of two people coming together. When Sara and I began our life together, our marriage was our crowning achievement. How we found each other and knew we should marry is still a wonder to me. But we did. And what resulted – whatever good things we created – had more to do with the alchemy I speak of than it had to do with what is deemed a “happy marriage”. Each person changes the other, for good. And then you can’t change back.’
Did I like this book? Yes I did. I was able to picture myself at cocktail hour sipping a Gin-Fizz while over-looking the Bay of Antibes. I was transported to another place & for me that is what a good book is all about…escapism!!!
I hope you get a chance to make your own escape to Antibes.