#BookReview Eureka by Anthony Quinn

EurekaAbout the Book

Summer, 1967. As London shimmers in a heat haze and swoons to the sound of Sergeant Pepper, a mystery film – Eureka – is being shot by German wunderkind Reiner Werther Kloss. The screenwriter, Nat Fane, would do anything for a hit but can’t see straight for all the acid he’s dropping. Fledgling actress Billie Cantrip is hoping for her big break but can’t find a way out of her troubled relationship with an older man. And journalist Freya Wyley wants to know why so much of what Kloss touches turns to ash in his wake. Meanwhile, the parallel drama of Nat’s screenplay starts unfurling its own deep secrets.

Sexy, funny, nasty, Eureka probes the dark side of creativity, the elusiveness of art and the torment of love.

Format: Hardcover (400 pages)   Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Publication date: 6th July 2017  Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

Screenwriter and failed actor Nat Fane is hoping that writing the screenplay for the film Eureka will rejuvenate his flagging career. The film is based on a Henry James short story, ‘The Figure in the Carpet’ in which an unnamed narrator meets his favourite author, Hugh Vereker, and becomes obsessed with finding a secret the author tells him runs through all his works, a secret no-one has yet discovered.

Nat is a larger-than-life character, a bon viveur with a taste for the finer things in life – being a member of the smartest clubs, driving a Rolls Royce and dressing in the latest fashions. When it comes to sex, Nat has a predilection for sado-masochism, resulting in him getting one of the best lines in the book. ‘He briefly wondered if his hostess would provide the necessary, and, deciding not to leave it to chance, packed two Venetian carnival masks and his riding crop.’ In addition, the poem Nat writes to celebrate his friend Freya’s birthday, inspired by the song ‘My Favourite Things’ from The Sound of Music, is both screamingly funny and very rude.

Those involved in the making of the film include avant-garde German director Reiner Werther Kloss, young actress Billie Cantrip (who Nat first came across in unusual circumstances), ageing actor Vere Summerville and Sonja Zertz, star of Riener’s most successful film. The book also features Nat’s friend, journalist Freya Wyley, the eponymous heroine of the author’s previous book. When Freya picks up the scent of a possible story, she embarks upon an investigation into potential murky goings on involving  the film’s shady financier, Harold Pulver, as well as the mystery of what happened to Reiner’s previous film which was never released and has disappeared without trace.

As well as telling the story of the making of the film, each chapter includes an excerpt from Nat’s screenplay featuring the fictional characters he has created based on James’s story. There are plenty of parallels between the film and the book if you care to look for them; a series of ‘figures in the carpet’, if you like. A recurring theme of the book is the meaning of art in all its forms, or more precisely whether it’s necessary for it to have a meaning at all. As one character remarks, ‘Sometimes it is less important to understand than to feel…’

The author conjures up the atmosphere of 1960s London which is swinging in more than one sense. The era of sexual freedom and experimentation is under way and hedonism is certainly alive and well amongst the characters in the book, especially Nat. Drink, drugs, and more drink are consumed with reckless abandon with the proverbial ‘night cap’ often resulting in something more intimate. The songs of The Beatles form a sort of soundtrack to the book so listening to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band would be the perfect accompaniment. Nat would probably recommend having a glass of champagne to hand as well… but only the finest vintage.

Eureka has been waiting patiently on my NetGalley shelf since 2017 – in fact, it was my oldest outstanding approval – and I’m so glad the NetGalley November reading challenge finally encouraged me to read it.  It’s a lot of fun and just a little bit naughty. It’s also made me want to read some of the other books Anthony Quinn has written, both before and since.

In three words: Witty, spirited, clever

Try something similar: The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton

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Anthony QuinnAbout the Author

Anthony Quinn was born in Liverpool in 1964. He was educated at St Francis Xavier’s College, a Catholic Grammar School, and at Pembroke College, Oxford, where he read Classics. His earliest break in journalism was to write book reviews for the recently launched Independent, whose literary editor was Sebastian Faulks. He has interviewed many writers, including Lorrie Moore, Alan Hollinghurst, William Boyd, Sarah Waters, Richard Ford, Michael Frayn, PJ O’Rourke, Ian McEwan, the Amises pere et fils. He was for fifteen years the film critic of the Independent (1998-2013).

Having been a judge on the 2006 Man Booker Prize he wrote his first novel the following year: the two events may have been related. The Rescue Man (2009) won the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award. His second novel, Half of the Human Race, was released in February 2011. His 2012 novel, The Streets, was shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2013. He lives in Islington. (Photo credit: RWC Literary Agency)

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