• Search
  • Lost Password?
Sharing our love for authors, and the stories they are inspired to tell.

Mr Wilder & Me
by Jonathan Coe
Review

Tea, flowers and an open book on a table in the garden - Used to feature my book reviews

I would like to thank the lovely team at TripFiction for selecting me as the winner of a competition, where the prize was a lovely hardcover edition of this book.

In these days of e-books and PDFs, you can’t beat the sound of that good solid thump, as ‘the real thing’ lands on the doormat.

Oh! the look, smell and feel of those printed pages, there surely is nothing like it!

Cover image of the book 'Mr Wilder & Me' by author Jonathan Coe

Mr WILDER & ME

Cover image of the book 'Mr Wilder & Me' by author Jonathan CoeIn the heady summer of 1977, a naive young woman called Calista sets out from Athens to venture into the wider world.

On a Greek island that has been turned into a film set, she finds herself working for the famed Hollywood director Billy Wilder, about whom she knows almost nothing. But the time she spends in this glamorous, unfamiliar new life will change her for good.

While Calista is thrilled with her new adventure, Wilder himself is living with the realization that his star may be on the wane. Rebuffed by Hollywood, he has financed his new film with German money, and when Calista follows him to Munich for the shooting of further scenes, she finds herself joining him on a journey of memory into the dark heart of his family history.

In a novel that is at once a tender coming-of-age story and an intimate portrait of one of cinema’s most intriguing figures, Jonathan Coe turns his gaze on the nature of time and fame, of family and the treacherous lure of nostalgia. When the world is catapulting towards change, do you hold on for dear life or decide it’s time to let go?

Cover image of the book 'Mr Wilder & Me' by author Jonathan Coe

JONATHAN COE

Image of author Jonathan CoeJonathan Coe was born in 1961 in Lickey, a suburb of south-west Birmingham. His first surviving story, a detective thriller called The Castle of Mystery, was written at the age of eight.

He continued writing fiction throughout his schooldays, his three years at Trinity College, Cambridge and his postgraduate years at Warwick University, where he was awarded a doctorate for his thesis on Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones. While working on this thesis he also completed The Accidental Woman, the first of his novels to be published.

In the late 1980s he moved to London to pursue his literary and musical enthusiasms, writing songs for his short-lived band “The Peer Group” and a feminist cabaret group called “Wanda and the Willy Warmers”. The Accidental Woman was published in April, 1987, and was followed by A Touch of Love (1989) and The Dwarves of Death (1990), but it was not until the publication of his fourth novel, What a Carve Up! that he began to reach a wider audience. It became his first international success, with translations in sixteen languages.

His work has received many prizes and awards, including both Costa Novel of the Year and Prix du Livre Européen for Middle England.

In France he won the Prix Médicis for The House of Sleep and has been appointed Officier de l’ordre des arts et des lettres. 

In Italy he has also won the Premio Flaiano (for Number 11) and the Premio Bauer-Ca’ Foscari.

The citation for the latter prize concluded that:-

‘for his keen interest in the most crucial issues of contemporary civilization, Jonathan Coe may be considered a complete novelist and a classic of our times’.

Keep up to date with all Jonathan’s news at his website

Follow Jonathan on Twitter

Cover image of the book 'Mr Wilder & Me' by author Jonathan Coe

FIRST LINES

“One winter’s morning, seven years ago, I found myself on an escalator. It was one of the escalators that takes you up to street level from the Piccadilly Line platforms at Green Park station. If you’ve ever used one of those escalators, you will remember how long they are. It takes about a minute to ride from the bottom to the top and, for a naturally impatient woman like me, a minute standing still is too long”

Cover image of the book 'Mr Wilder & Me' by author Jonathan Coe

MEMORABLE LINES

“My daughter was right: young people do not notice the feelings of their parents, are not even aware that they have feelings, most of the time. They live in a blissful state of sociopathy, as far as their parents’ emotions are concerned”

.

“The gods would be moving on, in other words; and I, a mere mortal, would be left behind, forgotten”

.

“Billy might have known it for several months by now, and I might only just have begun to grasp it, but we had both come to the same realization: the realization that what we had to give, nobody really wanted any more”

.

“My poverty was always a source of disappointment to her. If only she could have waited a few years”

.

“As you get older, the hopes get smaller and the regrets get bigger. The challenge is to fight it. To stop the regrets from taking over”

.

“Whatever else it throws at you, life will always have pleasures to offer. And we should take them”

Cover image of the book 'Mr Wilder & Me' by author Jonathan Coe

REVIEW

“When the world is catapulting towards change, do you hold on for dear life or decide it’s time to let go?”

This story is another delicious example of the blended fact and fiction novels, which are becoming so popular now, and this one is executed to perfection, by an author who is new to me.

No fast-paced action, in fact, no rushing whatsoever. No in-depth twisted storyline to unravel, or dark and hidden clues to fathom, no ‘bad guy’ to chase down. This is simply a story to luxuriate in, to savour every word and nuance, to get to know the characters, and to fully appreciate the quality of the well edited research and exquisite prose, which put me completely at ease and nicely relaxed. It seems that for almost everyone who has read and reviewed this book, the journey has been a unique and totally different experience to that of the next person, so opening that first page really needs to happen without any pre conceived ideas about the storyline, or expectations for an outcome. You simply need to enjoy the ride!

Narrated in a single voice, that of Calista herself, this is a story told in dual time frames, spanning several decades and finds her visiting many different countries, whilst enjoying various new, exciting and life-changing experiences. It is therefore even more astonishing to discover that in fact, the characters of Calista and her family are just about the only part of the storyline which is fictional, their backstory being seamlessly and artistically woven and blended with the many factual layers, into a complete and powerful package, which stands up well to scrutiny.

Compellingly written with total authority and confidence, the author is an artist with words, allowing the visually descriptive narrative and dialogue to transport me, a neutral observer, along on Calista’s adventures, with the sights, sounds and smells being oh! so close, yet tantalisingly out of reach! In this well constructed, multi-faceted storyline, there are many touching and emotional personal vignettes playing out simultaneously, with those parallel factual and fictional elements intertwined to enrich and add depth to the experience, as I glimpsed inside the rather fractured world of the rich and famous.

As Calista reminisces back to the heady days of the late 1970s, we essentially witness a rather morose and defeated Wilder, who together with his long time career associate, Diamond, realise and are trying to come to terms with, the prospect that the sands of time have rather caught up with, and indeed, overtaken them. This begs the question is Fedora, ostensibly a new film they are collaborating on, about a rather faded film star, really a personal homage to a director and writer, who once in the limelight, now find themselves retreating ever further into the shadows, with their rather dated style of film. Contrast that with the young Calista, whose stars are definitely in the ascent, as Wilder and Diamond take her under their collective wings and offer her an opening into their glamorous world. Calista seems to have the knack of bringing out the best in both men, with her innocent guile and charm. Gradually Wilder, an Austrian by birth, opens up to her about his highly emotional past and his constant striving to bring closure to the personal wartime events which have helped to shape him and his career. This vulnerability and desperate intensity, is laid bare for all to see and hear, during a post filming dinner at which all the crew are present, when his pain of a lifetime spent searching for a sense of belonging and answers, pours forth like a scripted speech from one of his own films.

Fast forward to the present day and in a bittersweet parallel, we find Calista struggling with her own ‘raison d’etre’, now that her family seems to have discovered their independence, her job as a full time mother is taking on a new background role and her career composing film scores has been confined to back burners of time. Can it be that she is able to manipulate and call upon that one final endgame, which will offer a lifeline to stave off her own personal lengthening shadows and approaching sands of time.

There are many background characters, who although they all have their part to play, don’t form an intrinsic part of the wider story. However, the principle characters are multi-faceted, well developed and defined, quite relatable and easy to invest in. Calista manages to connect with Wilder, Diamond and their wives with an innocence and naivety which is really surprising, drawing them out and forcing them to interact honestly with each other, in ways which they hadn’t done for some time. There is a vulnerability and emotional complexity about them which is both poignant and touching. Scratch the surface and there is a genuine depth and inclusivity. The scene between Wilder and Calista at the cheese farm, is definitely one to look out for

When I came to this story, I knew very little about the legend that is Billy Wilder and I was familiar with just a small handful of the many films he had made. To some extent this is simply a potted memoir of the man, however introducing the fictional character of Calista to the equation, has give the words an added dimension. The icing on the cake of this story, which rather reads like a film script itself, would be to see the book optioned for film in the future, thus completing that third dimension.

Image of author Jonathan Coe

A complimentary hardcover edition of this book, was awarded as a competition win and made available by TripFiction

Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.

I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 4 out of 5 stars!

 

Written by
Yvonne

I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when I haven’t been passionate about books and reading.
I began blogging, when I realised just how many other people out there shared my passion for the written word and I have been continually amazed at the wealth of books that are available and the amount of great new friends I have made, from literally 'The Four Corners Of The World'.

View all articles
Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

6 comments
    • Thank you for those kind words, I appreciate them.

      I haven’t read anything by this author before, but I may well do in the future, as I really enjoyed the journey this story took me on and the pictures it painted in my minds eye 🙂

  • German money and “dark heart of his family history” makes me think of the Nazi. It does seem really interesting, even if I’m not right about the Nazi part.
    I’m glad to see that you’ve enjoyed it so much. xx

    • Hi Anca,

      Wilder was Austrian by birth, although he was living in Berlin at the height of the rise of the Nazi party. Whilst the Nazi’s did indirectly influence his life, it was more of an emotional heartache, which never gave him peace or closure and haunted him until the end of his days. I don’t want to say any more, or about the German money, as there is quite a lengthy section in the book about it, so I would be well into ‘spoiler alert’ territory.

      I am really becoming quite addicted to these blended fiction / non-fiction stories, although show me a conventional memoir and I’ll be running for the hills!

      I really did enjoy Jonathan’s lovely writing style and the ‘cheese scene’ was just one of those moments to savour!

      Thanks for stopping by and I hope that all is well with you 🙂

  • I know nothing about Billy Wilder, though I recognize some of the films he did. (I don’t believe I’ve seen any of them!) I didn’t think it really appealed to me, yet your excellent review has me questioning that. I’m glad it ended up being a good one for you.

    • Hi Kelly,

      It wasn’t until I started researching the man that was Billy Wilder, that I realised just how many of the titles in his amazing film catalogue, I recognised or had watched.

      I must admit that I was in two minds about entering the competition for the book (I generally only compete for books I really want to read, it’s not just the winning for me!), because as you know, I am not a great memoir reader. However I have become quite addicted to this new “fictionalised memoir” genre, which seems have become so popular recently.

      This was just a nice, laid-back, beautifully written story. There was no real plot and very little romance, just a simple vignette of a man coming to terms with the fact that he is approaching the end of his career and determined to have his ‘swan song’. Calista is the bridge to that transition and she tells the story beautifully.

      Thank you for your kind words about my review, I appreciate your comments and views and I am always open to any criticisms you may have, as I know they will always be objective.

      I hope that life is treating you well and Take Care 🙂

Written by Yvonne

Archives