THE TWO HO­TEL FRANCFORTS

DNA Magazine - - BOOK REVIEWS -

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.

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