Invitation to a Bonfire…
About the Book:
A seductive, sensual and sinister love triangle set in 1930s America and inspired by the infamous Nabokov marriage.
Zoya Andropova, a young Russian refugee, finds herself in an elite New Jersey boarding school. Having lost her family, her home and her sense of purpose, Zoya struggles to belong, a task made more difficult by her new country’s paranoia about Soviet spies.
When she meets charismatic fellow Russian émigré Leo Orlov – whose books Zoya has obsessed over for years – everything seems to change. But she soon discovers that Leo is bound by the sinister orchestrations of his brilliant wife, Vera, and that their relationship is far more complex than Zoya could ever have imagined.
“My mother told me to take cues from my betters. Learn their habits, and track them like deer in a live wood. Keep watch of their movements, and, if it helps, imagine you’ve tied a line of bright yarn to one ankle to make their path clear.”
There’s a very definite Talented Mr. Ripley feel to this novel, and while I will acknowledge it was clever in its execution, for me, it didn’t quite reach the suspense and sophistication of this great predecessor.
The novel itself is told in the form of a journal, written by Zoya, who is clearly working her way towards a heavy confession. But she takes so long to get to the point, giving us her entire life story, painting a picture of a naive, yet morally corrupt young woman, an orphan and refugee of the Russian revolution of the 1920s. We were over halfway through the novel before she even meets the object of her desire, Leo, an author she admires who seduces her with little effort. That he was married didn’t faze Zoya at all, a character flaw that could be added to her many others. She was a passive person, relishing bodily harm inflicted upon her by others, yet oddly obsessive, particularly when it came to Leo’s wife, Vera. Zoya encountered Vera a single time when they were girls still in Russia, at a scout meeting. They never saw each other again until meeting over Leo, they never even properly spoke during this one time, and yet Zoya seemed convinced they had a connection, a lasting bond. She was an intensely insular woman, and from the impression I formed from reading her journal, I was not convinced she had the smarts, nor the gumption, to pull off the heist that she did. Perhaps this was part of the manipulation; was the journal merely a tool for misdirection in place of the confessional tome she led us to believe it was from the start? This seems unlikely, but you never know (and I probably never will!).
Interspersed with these journal entries were a series of letters from Leo to his wife Vera, displaying a level of passion towards his wife, almost a reverence, that was inconsistent with the impression he gave to Zoya. But Leo was a liar, as all people who cheat on their spouses are, so perhaps he was lying to both women: to Zoya in person and to Vera in the letters; most likely he was. A third narration was offered via public documents, presenting an investigative feel to the novel. In terms of its arrangement, I enjoyed the way this novel was set up. It was a unique form of story telling and gave me plenty of opportunity to test my doubts. Adrienne Celt writes very well and I particularly enjoyed Zoya’s recollections of Russia and the way of life within the midst of the revolution in the 1920s.
“The market, chaotic and jumbled as the best of them are, was also a good place to find back-alley action if you knew where to look. You might see, for instance, people trading secrets, people handing off illegal goods or evading tariffs, a whispered conversation followed by a man reaching into a pile of potatoes and pulling out a bottle of scotch. Illicit texts sewn into the spines of Party histories, photographic proof of murders tucked into the pocket of a tailored coat.”
All in all, Invitation to a Bonfire was an entertaining read. My lack of faith in Zoya as a credible mastermind is no reflection on my opinion of the author’s ability to create an engaging drama of volatility, despair and desire. Many will find this to be an excellent read. Enjoy and judge for yourself!
Thanks is extended to Bloomsbury for providing me with a copy of Invitation to a Bonfire for review.
About the Author:
Adrienne Celt is a writer, cartoonist, and avid reader living in Tucson, AZ. Her debut novel THE DAUGHTERS won the 2015 PEN Southwest Book Award and was shortlisted for the 2016 Crawford Award. Her second novel is INVITATION TO A BONFIRE.
Invitation to a Bonfire
Published by Bloomsbury
Imprint – Raven Books
eBook released in Australia on 12th July 2018
Hardback & Paperback released in Australia on 1st August 2018