Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The Affair - Gill Paul

My first instincts were that it wasn’t my usual type of book but as it was summer and seemed as though it would be fairly easy to read I stepped in without too much hesitation.

And I was pleased I did as I found myself quite enjoying it. It was refreshing to read a (sorry say it in small font chick lit) book based in Rome in the 1960s. Yes I was still reading about fashion and alcohol fuelled dates taking place in various glam parties and restaurants however this was 1960s fashion where gloves to the elbow were out and capri pants were in and margarita pizza and cornettos were considered the b all in food. By the way I have no idea where that phrase actually comes from or what it means. Anyone? Apologies if it means something entirely different to that I envisaged!

Yes hands up, I also really liked the Taylor/Burton romance. I liked the parallel between the two affairs and now really want to watch Cleopatra and research Taylor and Burton to see what was true. I found myself really liking them which is funny as both spouses were presented as human/caring people and usually the reader would always go for the victim rather than the perpetrator but I was routing for Taylor and Burton to have a happy ending even if it did lead to divorce. Twice.

I thought the main problem with the first half of the book was the characters. There were quite a few who had pivotal roles in the book yet some were just too wishy washy for me, especially Helen. Her part in the story really needed to be gritty and hard hitting yet she flittered in and out of the book as and when the author remembered she needed to be there and Diana’s friendship with her was too flimsy. Were they really so friendly Helen would have got on a late night train by herself in Italy to ask her for money even though they had just had a massive falling out? The book didn’t give that impression and yet she did, much to her downfall.

Coupled with wishy washyness (making up words now) there was a big dose of Naivety. Where I could understand Scotts to some extent - big break wants to make his mark and so writes his first article that annoys half the Italian government. Helen and Diana’s were less understandable. Granted we are talking about the 60s but even then how could two girls who upped sticks and went to live in Rome by themselves be so naive? Even when in prison with Donatella Diana didn’t really seem to have grown up or leant anything yet she was a married woman who was obviously educated to a high standard.

The lack of progression or ‘learning of life’s lessons’ was also a trait found in Scott, particularly with his liaisons with the mob/Luigi. He was beaten within an inch of his life and was left permanently injured simply for talking to girl yet he not only had further dealings with them he practically police interviews Luigi whilst buying cocaine from him but walks away without a hair on his head being ruffled.

The group as a whole also didn’t think Scott did enough to help Helen. He seemed to be a decent bloke – could have bedded Helen on numerous occasions but didn’t yet even though the author laboured over how distraught Helen was at his last meeting with her he just gave her some money and walked off. Why when he bothered to take her to the doctors in the first place? It seemed a weak part of the story but I guess the author had to link Scott to Diana somehow.

There, for me at least, was also way too much stereotyping in the book. English, reserved Trevor wearing sandals and socks v handsome Ernesto the Italian lothario. Goody goody Hilary, the sinister drug dealing Luigi and the blonde young innocent Helen. You could practically list every characters traits before they had spoken a line.

Lastly to end our list of character faults we thought the characters lacked depth and as a result of this empathy. Diana was madly in love with Ernesto yet when she found out he was married she reasoned that she had never been in love with him as their whole relationship had been a lie. She seemed to recover/skim over the heartbreak immediately and as a result I didn’t really care. This was repeated again and again throughout the book. I don’t think anyone in the group was upset when Helen died and I feel this is because of how she was portrayed – a silly naive blonde who ‘just wanted a boyfriend’ instead of a tragic youth out of her depth far from home.

We talked a lot about Trevor. How we thought he knew about the affair when he asked Diana to wait until filming was over before making any decisions. How Diana viewed him as more of a father figure rather than a husband as he was a lot older than Diana and their relationship began shortly after her father died.

We all wanted Trevor to stand up and shout his love for Diana and were frustrated that he never did. We thought this again was down to stereotyping – it wouldn’t be the English university professors thing to declare your undying love to your wife would it. Yet his frost with Diana lasted just long enough for Ernesto to bed Diana. Convenient.

We felt there were a number of convenient moments in the book. As though the author knew where she wanted to end up and so wrote each chapter with the sole point of getting to that point regardless or not as to whether it made sense or felt right to the reader. Granted every book needs to have plot and an overall aim but this just didn’t take you along for the ride it felt as though it was cold heartedly ticking the boxes to get to the end – Trevor annoyed at Diana so she has an affair, check. Trevor reconciles with Diana so he can come and save the day – check.

In the end all we were reading was the stage being set and the characters being manoeuvred for the ‘murder’. This was the second half of the book where the author seemingly went off on a tangent and forgot she was writing a summer romance with the added plus of guest stars Taylor/Burton. I really have no idea why it went down this route as a typical thriller/crime novel it was not. It lacked punch, pace and anything else you can think of that starts with P.

I mentioned wishy washy earlier on and the second half of the book continued in this vain - Luigi disappeared presumed dead. Ernesto disappeared presumably back to his wife with his tail between his legs and good old Trevor saved the day. In the end the murder wasn’t even a murder!
The author then tried to squash years into 5 pages with Scott releasing a book after his story of the year was stolen by Truman Capote (yes really) and Diana and Trevor living apart but only two doors down and only after a period of time where they both went back to ‘normal’ life but in separate bedrooms.

It did leave us asking what sort of life Trevor and Diana would actually end up living. Would either of them find love again? Would Diana still do his washing? We all thought she would as lets face it this would be the predictable thing for her to do!

We gave it a 6.4 with its gentile summer style read prompting some people to give it higher marks.

Next book The Little Village School Gervais Phinn.