Eureka by Anthony Quinn
It is the summer of 1967, and the sun is beating down on London, complete with the music of the Beatles and relationships being enjoyed to the full. This is the background of Quinn’s novel, overflowing with characters and in settings that are full of the sights, smalls and sounds of a time of change and challenge. Nat Fane, a screenwriter, had wanted to be an actor, but discovered the thing that made him stand out from the crowd, would fund a glorious lifestyle and kept him in touch with the celebrities of the age is writing the screen versions of novels and stories.This novel is about a film being made of a story by Henry James, and the challenge of making it relevant. As other people depend on Nat’s words, including young film maker Reiner Werther Kloss, a young actress in need of money and a start, an older actor scarred by experience and notoriety, and a host of others, Freya, an instinctive journalist collides with the project. Freya is a favourite character of Quinn’s, recurring over several of his novels, witnessing many things and wondering about more.
This is a book which manages to breathe a sense of the time over every page, as social history and living people seem to collide. The large cast of people in this vibrant novel are brilliantly depicted, as much of the interest circulates around making a film, the script of which is threaded through the novel. As the focus flips from Nat and his unusual tastes, Billie and her sad relationship and the dubious film backer and his doubtful motives, this is a novel which moves through London and briefly in the sunlight of a location. From a seedy studio, through expensive restaurants to the streets of Germany, this is a novel which succeeds in being visual yet full of the sounds of a new era.
The novel opens with the bored Nat getting frustrated about writing a screenplay for “The Figure in the Carpet”, a report of which leaves his name out, and an unexciting meal in an expensive restaurant. He meets Billie Cantrip, RADA graduate and a young woman who will surprise him with her singular sensitivity. As she returns to her disappointing flat where her older partner is being dissatisfied about everything, she thinks about the lyrics of the new recording “Penny Lane”, which relates so strongly to everyday life. As other characters are introduced, there are connections to Nat, Billie and the reporter Freya. The latter thinks that there is more to the surprisingly young director of the film than is first apparent; she decides to find out more about his carefully contrived image.
There are some surprising things about this book – it is detailed about certain activities, it refers to past hurts and present dangers, it suggests secrets and lies. Some of the characters are given a backstory which if it is revealed is episodic. It has great energy and yet runs along smoothly, revealing hints about each of the main characters in various settings.It offers a glimpse of another time, a mystery and characters who seem to be of their time. I found it a very enjoyable read, with multi-dimensional characters who interact with the others in a very realistic way. I recommend it to anyone who admires good characterisation and novels set in this time of enthusiasms and change.