I cannot for the life of me remember buying Last Dance With Valentino, but I’m pretty sure it must have come from the second-hand book stall that they had at uni. It seems like the sort of thing that I’d pick up on a whim and judging by the order of the reading list, that makes most sense. As for why I picked it up, it’s probably to do with my weird sort of fascination that I have with the interwar period. There’s something about that whole doomed youth thing, living on the edge because they’ve survived what they think must be the worst that life can throw at them, unaware that worse is around the corner. Plus, you have to love the whole early Hollywood glamour thing.
Last Dance With Valentino follows a young Englishwoman named Jenny Doyle in the ten years after she comes to America with her father in an attempt to escape the hardships of Britain in World War I. The storyline focuses on her decade-long love affair with an Italian immigrant dancer Rodolfo Guglielmi, who later becomes beloved by millions as the silent actor Rudolph Valentino. It switches between two plotlines, one starting in 1916 where their budding love affair meets with a series of tragic events stemming from their involvement with the de Saulles family, while the other starts in 1926 and focuses on the pair trying to reignite their relationship, unaware that further tragedy is on the horizon.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t really familiar with Rudolph Valentino or his work, but I’m sort of fascinated to find out what a sex symbol from the 1920s must have been like. Because I didn’t really get to see much of Valentino considering that he’s our narrator’s love interest. Instead of a tragic love story, it seemed more like an experiment on how much misery the author can pile on one person within a set ten year period. Honestly, it got really tiring because there’s only so much suffering that one character can go through before you need something to lighten the mood. And there wasn’t really anything like that in Last Dance With Valentino. It was more moving from one source of unrelenting misery to another source of unrelenting misery. I think the author tried to add light moments in the form of Jenny getting work as a photoplay writer and being surprisingly good at it, but when you compare it to the death, abuse and addiction problems that she has to deal with it seems utterly paltry in comparison. Honestly, it’s a real shame, because the author does have a fair amount of actual writing talent, with a really good ear for dialogue and great skills with settings. But the balance just wasn’t right for me.
Not really my sort of thing. An interesting enough premise, just spoiled by the fact that there’s a bit too much tragedy to get you properly invested. If you don’t have the bright moments as contrast, the dark tragic moments just make everything a murky shade of grey. Well-written, but I wouldn’t read it again. Maybe something to pick up if you’re a fan of silent movies. 3/5
Next review: The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin