I love the 60s: what an amazing time! Everything was new, everything seemed possible, and looking back there's a nostalgia for an era so full of hope and optimism (oh, what do I sound like? I'm not even that old.). To me, "The Affair" seems to catch the mood of that far away era perfectly, of those raised in the 50s (when men could pinch girls' bottoms and husbands expected wives not to work) being abruptly shoved into this bright new era. So we see our heroine Diana shocked, but strangely excited, when she sees see two men kissing on the Cleopatra set - her first encounter with homosexuality. And that's just the beginning...
Diana is employed as researcher during the filming of Cleopatra in Rome in 1961-62. She's clever, but hopelessly naive. Everyone is more streetwise, even the younger, very vulnerable makeup artist she befriends. Scott, the protagonist of a parallel story thread, is an American journalist, whose tale becomes intertwined with hers. He is another wet-behind-the-ears, straight out of Harvard and keen to bed as many girls as he can manage. In the background is the Taylor/Burton true-life soap opera, and when Diana meets them it creates some of the best moments of the novel. Always with a glass of something boozy at their elbows, they are smart-talking, magnetic and impossibly glamorous.
The 60s atmosphere is created very effectively through dialogue, detail, and attitudes without impinging on a fast-paced, compelling story of these people living the high life in a foreign land. It's a novel that also questions our attitudes to celebrity, yet it is a lot of fun to read. But most of all, it makes you wish you'd been there, living La Dolce Vita, supping Prosecco in a glitzy Roman cafe, riding on the back of a Vespa, and watching Elizabeth Taylor's feather boa catch fire as she danced a rumba.
Where's the sequel? I want more!
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