Liza Klaussmann, the author of the bestselling novel Tigers in Red Weather, was born in Brooklyn, spent a decade in Paris and currently calls London home. Her second novel, Villa America, was published earlier this month by Bond Street Books. Set on the Mediterranean coast in the 1920s, it fictionalizes the lives of Sara and Gerald Murphy, an American couple at the heart of a group of expatriate artists, writers and musicians, ranging from Pablo Picasso to Ernest Hemingway to Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Why did you write your new book?
That's always the question, isn't it? Why this book and not another? I guess, the shortish answer is that this story had been travelling around with me for a while: I wrote my MA thesis on Tender Is the Night, and my obsession with the Murphys and their circle and the bohemian set of the 1920s has been long-standing. In a way, I think I had to write this book, so that I could get it out of my system and write other books. Also, I really wanted to do an old-fashioned, tragic love story. It's the kind of narrative that I love to read myself so, naturally, as writer, I wanted to write one of my own. I think the Murphys' marriage and love was so tender and fascinating, and I wanted to see how the alchemy would change when you introduce passionate love into that mix via a third party.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
The best advice – well not advice so much as forewarning – came from a professor I once had, the film critic Andrew Sarris, who said: "You marry the best person in your circle and you pray to God that circle never gets bigger." And I think that stands in for almost every aspect of life, it speaks to not only love but ambition, because of course your circle will get bigger and you have to be prepared for that inevitable experience of seeing something better out there, something you don't have: a better job, a better lover, a better book, a better prize – whatever.
What's a book every 10-year-old should read, and why?
I think the original Grimms' Fairy Tales, because they're so wild and cruel and fanciful and allow children to experience the gruesome side of life and human nature in an imaginative, but safe setting. I remember being particularly taken with the ending of Little Snow White, where the wicked queen is forced to don iron shoes and dance on hot coals until she drops dead. What a way to go.
Which book got you through the darkest period of your life?
I had a very low period at around 16 to 17 and I read this copy I had of the collected works of Anne Sexton so many times that the cover fell off. I think confessional poetry is great for adolescence: it echoes that high emotional decibel I think teenagers live at. Sexton had that same of kind of excruciating self-awareness and maudlin outlook that I had at that time. And of course, misery loves company.
Which books have you re-read most in your life?
I would say most of Charles Dickens' novels, mainly Dombey and Son, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist and Little Dorrit. They're so sprawling and imaginative, which allows you to lose yourself in them; so sad and funny and ultimately, comforting, and full of enough whimsy that they're a pleasure to read again and again. Because of the serial structure, they're kind of the precursor to lying on the couch all day watching a box set.