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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Villa of Delirium

Adrien Goetz

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To purchase Villa of Delirium

Title: Villa of Delirium
Author: Adrien Goetz
Genre: Novel
Written: 2017 (Eng. 2020)
Length: 317 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Villa of Delirium - US
Villa of Delirium - UK
Villa of Delirium - Canada
Villa Kérylos - Canada
Villa Kérylos - France
  • French title: Villa Kérylos
  • Translated by Natasha Lehrer

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Our Assessment:

B : fascinating family and house, reasonably well worked into a novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Express . 6/5/2017 David Foenkinos
Le Figaro . 20/4/2017 Etienne de Montety

  From the Reviews:
  • "Avec une érudition fascinante mais jamais étouffante, Goetz plonge dans les coulisses de ce chantier quasi divin. (...) Au-delà de toutes les histoires, c'est un magnifique roman d'éducation qui se tisse. (...) (C)'est un livre sur la concrétisation de ses rêves, alors l'amour sera consommé heureusement." - David Foenkinos, L'Express

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The villa of the title is the Villa Kérylos, a real structure built at the beginning of the twentieth century by a Théodore Reinach in imitation of a classical Greek house, in southern France, near Nice. The wealthy Theodore (he and the villa both go accent aigu-less in the English version) was fascinated by classical culture, and devoted much of his life to it; although also involved in collecting antiquities he believed these should be on public display (and his role in the acquisition and display of one piece at the Louvre is among the central plot points of the novel) and: "He didn't like living surrounded by ornaments; it made him ill at ease. He liked museums", and so:

Kerylos was intended to be neither a gallery showing authentic works of Greek art, nor a museum. It was his home. It was for the pure pleasure of a passionate connoisseur, and also a tool for an even greater understanding of ancient Greece, about which he had amassed a fine collection of books, but which he wanted to comprehend from within.
       The novel is narrated by Achilles, still a youngster when Reinach arrived and began his grand project. Achilles' mother worked for Gustave Eiffel -- yes, of tower-fame -- who lived next door, and they were originally from Cyprus -- hence Achilles' name as well as the fact that he knows some modern Greek, both of which help him catch the eye of Theodore, who takes the youngster under his wing. Achilles becomes close friends with Theodore's nephew, Adolphe, and learns classical Greek from Theodore. He gets his own room in the villa and, if not having the complete run of the place, is treated practically as part of the family.
       The Achilles who narrates the story is an old man; born in 1887, he tells his tale on 19 April 1956 -- the day of Princess Grace's wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco, in nearby Monaco, when everyone's attention is focused on the grand event and he can easily slip into the house (something he apparently has occasionally done for decades, as he still has a key to the house). The house is pretty run down now -- and he thinks that at this point it will and should fall into actual ruin: "That would be the best that could happen to it".
       Achilles has gone on to become a reasonably successful painter -- "I was a Cubist. It was not the simplest life I could have chosen" -- but he now returns to the place where he spent so much of his youth for what he decides will be the final time, determined to retrieve what he believes is rightfully his -- lured also in part by an anonymous postcard he received, a drawing on it in the place of the usual written message.
       Achilles describes his search of the empty house for the mystery-object on that day, but most of what he offers is reflection on and recollection of the early days in Kerylos. It was a defining time for him, making him the man he became. A poor student, he nevertheless persisted under Theodore's guidance and learned classical Greek. He readily admits:
My whole life, I owe to Greek. If I hadn't known how to conjugate the aorist, where to put the stresses, how to recite mi-verbs, I would never have been able to escape my menial little existence. Declensions proved to be the instrument of my ascent.
       Achilles' much younger brother (who barely figures in the story) is similarly helped along by another benefactor, Gustave Eiffel, as even though they are just the sons of a cook their talents were both recognized and fostered by these illustrious men:
At the time, the Republic functioned as smoothly as the elevators in Eiffel's eponymous tower: two intelligent boys were given a chance, and two highly distinguished men did not think it was beneath them to facilitate their chances. Things worked out better for my brother. His protector was more efficient than mine and less of a dreamer.
       From early on in his account Achilles displays considerable anger at and resentment of the Reinachs; it's clear he broke with the family, but the circumstances and reasons long are left unclear. From so far after the fact, he does note that at the time: "There was one question I never asked myself: what did they want from me ?" But it appears that, from the beginning, he's there for a reason; as he eventually realizes, when he overhears a conversation:
It had never occurred to me that I was not in this house by chance, or by a simple act of kindness. Theodore was, apparently, planning something in which I was to have a starring role, I knew nothing about it and no one had ever mentioned it to me.
       Goetz plays with keeping the reader in suspense of what could have caused the break -- suggesting, along the way, just how deep and passionate the rupture was with observations such as Achilles' that: "From my very first painting, I tried to kill everything in me that was Greek".
       There are also a few other mysteries -- most obviously also what Achilles is hunting for in the house (which had been looted by the Nazis near the end of the Second World War, and hence might have been lost to them). But most of the novel is a re-creation of the times and the lifestyle, a carefree youth dropped in the lap of this unusual world, half classical, half contemporary, with a family that had both immense wealth but was also ultra-intellectual. Based on real-life figures, Goetz describes a fascinating world -- with Achilles as then-teenage observer and participant a welcome perspective of someone who doesn't even understand enough to be properly in awe. Along the way, Achilles also recounts what became of many of the figures (including himself), including the Reinachs, including close friend Adolphe, for whom he served as something of a protector during their service in the First World War.
       There's a passionate love affair, too, as young Achilles got involved with married woman Ariadne; his quest, after he loses sight of her after the Second World War, is also for this one great passion of his life.
       Goetz fashions quite an appealing novel out this rich historical material. The Reinachs were a fascinating and impressive family, and Goetz utilizes and presents them quite well in the novel (though of course in part they also constrain him -- but he mostly navigates that quite well). Achilles' is a useful perspective from which to tell the story, just the right balance between out- and in-sider, and long sufficiently naïve as to merely accept and observe rather than critically examine; there are significant facts about the family that he long remains unaware of. The present-day (well, 1956) point from which he looks back on events is a bit awkward, and the seventy-year-old Achilles a bit bitter, but the somewhat meandering back and forth telling of the story with its many teases and things-left-unsaid-until-later isn't that irritating because Goetz shows a good hand in his description of this unusual world and these unusual lives. Achilles' account is, fittingly, also one of a kind of mourning; ambivalent though he is about it, his account is also an old man's tale of lost youth.
       The novel is ultimately tied very neatly in a bow in its resolution -- too neatly, arguably, but there's some satisfaction in that too.
       Villa of Delirium is steeped in a kind of nostalgia, not only of the classical world of Greece but also a lost France (and indeed Europe). Achilles admits that: "The Greece of Kerylos was no masquerade; it was an attempt to recover the essence of beauty. Nothing less" , and Goetz's fiction is a similar exploration of past, using the rich material he bases his story on well for those purposes. The two World Wars left their mark on the family, on Europe, and on Kerylos itself; Achilles writes of a desecration, and Goetz's fiction is an attempt to re-create and re-call this old, almost sacred world -- or rather twin worlds, classical Greece and a France (indeed a Europe) before the civilization-shattering First World War. He's quite successful in his effort, and Villa of Delirium is an engaging, colorful read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 July 2020

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Villa of Delirium: Reviews: Villa Kérylos: Adrien Goetz: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Adrien Goetz was born in 1966.

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© 2020-2021 the complete review

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