Huge thanks to Alexia Thomaidis of Viking Books for my gorgeous copy of Mr Wilder & Me for review.
Published by Viking Books and out now!
In the heady summer of 1977, a naïve young woman called Calista sets out from Athens to venture into the wider world. On a Greek island that has been turned into a film set, she finds herself working for the famed Hollywood director Billy Wilder, about whom she knows almost nothing. But the time she spends in this glamorous, unfamiliar new life will change her for good.
While Calista is thrilled with her new adventure, Wilder himself is living with the realisation that his star may be on the wane. Rebuffed by Hollywood, he has financed his new film with German money, and when Calista follows him to Munich for the shooting of further scenes, she finds herself joining him on a journey of memory into the dark heart of his family history.
In a novel that is at once a tender coming-of-age story and an intimate portrait of one of cinema’s most intriguing figures, Jonathan Coe turns his gaze on the nature of time and fame, of family and the treacherous lure of nostalgia. When the world is catapulting towards change, do you hold on for dear life or decide it’s time to let go?
Starting off in the present day, but mainly set in the seventies, we follow our main protagonist Calista Frangopoulou, as she sets off to the USA, to backpack around the country for a number of weeks. Meeting and befriending a fellow young traveller, she finds herself having dinner with Billy Wilder and Iz Diamond, (Mr Wilder being an old acquaintance of the father of Calista’s travelling companion). However her new friend deserts her for a young man she has recently meet who is due to fly home, so Calista is left to enjoy an evening of good food, enlightening conversation and a little too much alcohol.
The film director and his wife see her safely back to their apartment to spend the night on the sofa. However a connection has been made, and when Mr Wilder is due to start filming in Greece, for his new film Fedora, he is in need of an interpreter and Calista who speaks Greek, English, French and German finds herself with a job offer and on her way to Corfu.
On the Greek island we follow Calista as she works on set, meeting film stars, journalists and learning her way around this new and exciting world of film. We also learn about the determination behind the making of the film as we learn of the career and life of Mr Wilder and the things that have made him the man he is now.
I enjoyed reading this story and enjoyed being whisked off into Calista’s new and unexpected coming of age adventure and follow her over a number of years, as she becomes more comfortable in her new surroundings. I liked reading the scenes featuring ‘real life’ film stars of the day, plus learning of the ever changing world of Hollywood.
Finding the crew in Munich the book takes a little turn, as it recounts Billy’s past and time before and after his first move to the US. Having no knowledge of the director before reading this book, I found the factual elements of the story and the inclusion of the many real life actors and films mentioned very interesting. I also found the author’s use of a film script to explain and tell the part of the book which deals with WWII a quick and easy to understand method to portray Billy’s experiences, yet keeping it vivid and sympathetic.
Billy uses Clarista, towards the end of the story, as a listening ear. Someone more removed from the film industry perhaps, making it easier for him to express his true feelings. I found this a little unlikely, not just because of the age gap, but also as they don’t really know each other that well. However, I did like the growing friendship she seems to make with Iz, as she begins to work closer with him. The parts where Billy describes the changing faces of Hollywood and the new incoming directors I loved. Plus the inclusion of Mr Pacino.
I haven’t actually read any of this authors books before, so I went into this one with no preconceptions as to what I was hoping to get from the novel. I think this worked here. For me this story had similarities to a work by William Boyd, one of my favourite authors, so I enjoyed the writing style and pitch of the story very much. I will definately look into reading the author’s other books now.