Well written indeed – but left me feeling like a voyeur,
I enjoyed Greenhalgh’s earlier book, Coco and Igor He clearly has an interest in the lives of artistic stars, and the ability to create imaginative and interesting fiction out of the lives of those writ large in the public eye.
And on many levels, he has done the same, equally successfully, with the story of Ingrid Bergman and her affair with the war photographer Robert Capa.
However, my absorption with this beautifully written, sharply observed portrait of two real people, one of whom still has living children, kept getting a bit uncomfortable. A straight biography is one thing, whether authorised or not – information exists in the public domain and can be accessed – that this happened and that happened can be shown. And an authorised biography will allow the author access to a certain amount of private information, so more detail may be given.
But I found myself slightly queasy reading this fictional account of a real woman and a real man’s motivations, drives and private laundry, somehow laid bare by the author’s skill – in an extremely convincing way – but this still is FICTION, but somehow blurs into a possible/probable reality – that they did have an affair IS known, but the laying bare of the failing marriage Bergman and her Swedish husband had – what is the effect for the child of that marriage?
This book gave me MUCH to think about, aside from its own excellence. Is there a difference between the high quality turning into fiction of the lives of the Brontes which Jude Morgan did so successfully in The Taste of Sorrow and this book, which Greenhalgh seems to manage equally finely. It somehow feels as if there is, because it is fairly recent history, and the central character’s children are still living.
I wanted to easily award 5 stars for the quality of the writing, for the beautiful unfolding of psychology, place and time, but the ethics of the book, and my ensuing discomfort have left me with disquieting questions, which I can’t easily answer. If this book had been written another 50 years in the future, I would not be feeling this edge of unease
And unlike my usual habit of putting photos in wherever I can, it feels curiously wrong to upload photos of Bergman and Capa. The question is, does the quality of the writing (and it is fine, the managing of the voices of Bergman and Capa is done well) excuse the subject matter. Curiously, I found myself almost feeling that it was the good writing itself that was part of the problem, persuading the reader of an interior truth, whereas in fact, although the affair DID happen, there is no ‘interior truth’ – this is the author’s invention only. Less good writing would have left me feeling less ambivalent
Do I think this is worth reading. Definitely, in terms of the writing. And yet, those doubts remain