12 June 2013
Book Review: The Affair by Gill Paul
Rome 1961. The cameras roll on the film set of Cleopatra and the explosive Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton love affair is about to capture the world’s attention.
When Diana Bailey begins work as a historical advisor, tensions are running high. The film is in financial crisis and a media storm is brewing over the Taylor-Burton relationship.
Diana adjusts to a new life away from her troubled marriage, and strikes up a close friendship with Helen, a young make-up artist, as well as seeking solace in Ernesto, a charismatic member of the film crew. But Helen is harbouring a dark secret - one that will affect Diana in more ways than she could ever imagine…
An enthralling story of love and passion, set against the stunning backdrop of one of the most iconic Hollywood movies ever made."
You can buy The Affair as a paperback or an eBook now.
Now, you've probably guessed this isn't the sort of thing I usually read. It's historical, and I tend to stay away from historical fiction as it isn't usually my cup of tea. However, after recently reading Kathleen Tessaro's brilliant novel The Perfume Collector which is an historical novel, I decided I would give this book a go because I have to admit I was curious about it. Before I read the book, I had no idea about the movie Cleopatra, I've not seen it, nor do I really know anything at all about Elizabeth Taylor or her life, so I did worry if this would hinder me in any way. Luckily for me, Gill Paul gives you enough information to understand the film and its story, and also perceptions of Liz Taylor at that time, so you can go into it knowing nothing, much like I did, and still be able to fully access and enjoy this story.
Diana Bailey is offered a dream job as a researcher on the new film Cleopatra, starring one of Hollywood's biggest names, Elizabeth Taylor. Her husband isn't keen on the idea, preferring his wife to stay at home and fulfill her homely duties, but Diana knows she just can't down the amazing opportunity that's been offered to her. She jets off, alone, to the film set in Rome, and starts work, making new friends alone the way. She befriends a young English make up artist, and the pair soon enjoy spending time together. When she's not with Helen, Diana is newly friends with Ernesto, another man working on the film, but Diana isn't sure how to handle it when she starts to have more than friendly feelings towards him, especially knowing her husband is unhappy being left behind in England. Will Diana enjoy her time on one of the most famous movie sets of all time, or is it all destined to go wrong for her?
What I really enjoyed about this book was how quickly I got absorbed into the story-telling, and Diana's new life over in Rome. Yes, it was just a working holiday for her but she seems to enjoy it so much, you forget she has a life back in England and it's fun reading about a film set through a novice's eyes too - Diana is excited about all of the things she sees, and doesn't know how to react when she sees one of the many celebrities on set, especially Elizabeth Taylor. I found Liz Taylor to be a curious character actually - its always interesting reading a fictional book based on real life events, and a real person, but since I didn't know much about her, I took it pretty much at face value! Taylor didn't seem an especially awful person, but was determined to get what she wanted whatever the cost, especially regarding the many men in her life. Taylor is in a few scenes not just as an actress in the book, and I liked reading about these interactions. It actually almost portrays Taylor in a sympathetic light, a victim of her fame and circumstance, and I was wondering what she was really like behind the glamourous facade she put on.
The book is set in 1961 when the movie was being shot, and I felt Paul did a good job in making it seem authentic as you were reading, and the way she wrote about the film set sounded brilliant. She's clearly done in-depth research about the movie, the shooting of it and other things that happened as there are many things referenced throughout the book. I loved reading about all the costumes, the sets, the other film related things, and how Diana didn't seem to understand much either! Her friendship with Ernesto wasn't one I particularly enjoyed, I had a feeling he was a bad apple from the start and I thought Diana may be heading for trouble, but I had to keep reading to find out what else was going to happen for her! Helen, the young make up artist Diana befriends was a nice girl, and her story takes a few twists and turns along the way too, which really kept me interested. Diana herself is likeable, a bit naive in certain things, but overly quite a nice person, just very young and feeling like her life is getting too boring for her. She's brave in going out to Rome alone, something very uncommon for its time, especially against her husband's wishes but I liked that the main character stepped out of type for a bit in this book.
Considering this was a historical novel, something I tend to stay away from, I really did enjoy this book and having something different to read for a change. There were a few shocks in the book which really did take me by surprise, and I totally did not expect them, so it was fantastic to read something a bit different and be surprised at the same time. Paul keeps you guessing as you read, you're never sure what is going to happen next and I really couldn't guess at how it would end for Diana. It's believable in its time period, I enjoyed reading about the fashion, the socialising, and the extra little story line thrown in involving an American journalist and the Italian mafia certainly added a little something exciting as I was really scared for him, and I was constantly wondering how it would tie in with the main story involving Diana. For me, this was a great read that I enjoyed from start to finish, and would recommend to everyone, whether or not you think you like historical fiction! A really fun read.