THE TWO HOTEL FRANCFORTS
Reviewed by Graeme Aitken
This new historical novel from David 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, the city is heaving with refugees of all nationalities and classes. Many are awaiting safe passage to New York aboard the SS Manhattan; others hustle for a visa, while some have no options remaining, their money slowly 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 has proven to be a difficult travelling companion. This is despite the fact that she is a Jew and her personal situation is the most perilous. The couple they meet are Edward and Iris Freleng: wealthy, cosmopolitan, and successful crime novelists, a career they fell into as a lark. 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 other indiscretions in the past, yet this affair is different and she tries to steer Pete away. When the climax to the novel 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 The Two Hotel Francforts.
I have read all of David Leavitt’s seven previous novels and I would emphatically rate this as 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 particular moment in history is absolutely fascinating.
The American edition of The Two Hotel Francforts (pictured on the left) will be published by Bloomsbury October 15 2013 in USA; the British edition (pictured on the right) will be published 7 November in the UK and 1 November in Australia.