THE TWO HOTEL FRANCFORTS
This new historical novel from Leavitt is immediately captivating as the setting is so well-chosen. It is Lisbon, in the summer of 1940, and the city remains the only neutral port left in Europe. Naturally, it is heaving with refugees of all nationalities and classes. Many are awaiting safe passage to New York; others hustle for a visa, while some have no options remaining, the last of their savings dwindling away. It is against this backdrop that two couples meet. Our narrator is Pete Winters, a car salesman, and his discontented wife, Julia. Obliged to abandon her Paris apartment (which recently featured in Vogue), she is furious and proves a difficult travelling companion. This is despite the fact she is a Jew and therefore her personal situation is the most perilous. They meet Edward and Iris Freleng: wealthy, cosmopolitan, and successful crime novelists. But the Frelengs have a most unconventional marriage, as Pete discovers when Edward seduces him. Soon their affair has become utterly vital to Pete, which Iris quickly senses. She has endured indiscretions in the past, yet this affair is different and she tries to steer Pete away. When the novel’s climax comes, it is delivered most ingeniously not by the narrator, but by a minor character who has made only the most fleeting of appearances in the book. It’s a very clever manoeuvre and highlights the expert construction of this eighth novel from David Leavitt. It is one of his finest – the narrative is carried off with great wit, intelligence and distinction; the characters (both major and minor) are an intriguing bunch, and this moment in history is absolutely fascinating.