Friday, 19 June 2015

The Argentinian Virgin by Jim Williams

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett, author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Land Beyond Goodbye and Don’t Look Down (

What We Thought: Once again Jim Williams pulls off a magnificent feat. The Argentinian Virgin is dreamlike book of memories and insights which flashes back and forward in time. Though reminiscent of Scott Fitzgerald’s work it is more homage than pastiche.

In the summer of 1941 the young narrator, Pat Byrne, takes a small house on the French Riveria to write. France is occupied by the Germans but Pat, being Irish, is a neutral as are the four glamorous Americans he falls in with. Pat attends the Americans’ drinking parties and finds himself admiring ‘Lucky’ Tom Rensselaer, a man of Gatsby-like mysteriousness.

Tom himself falls for the Argentinian virgin of the title – a young woman who lives with her mother in a crumbling villa further up the cliff. The ‘Argentinians’ are allegedly awaiting the return of their husband/father who is missing on some unspecified business. Tom Rensselaer is a man who espouses a certain moral code – as evidenced by his reaction to the fall and death of a young boy early in the novel. By holding these particular views on good and evil and allowing himself to be drawn in to the problematic lives of the two women he seals his own future.

When a greatly disliked Spanish businessman turns up dead, life in the various villas becomes strained and cracks start to appear in relationships. Tom does not want to believe the two women are responsible for the death – but if they aren’t there must be an unknown third person in the equation.

This ‘testament to doomed youth’ novel is both a love story and a murder mystery. It is a novel of langorous prose and tales of golden youth and golden days where the tarnish to come is not quite hidden. We see it all through Pat Byrne’s eyes but does he himself understand what he sees?

You’ll enjoy this if you like: The novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Avoid if you dislike: Sensuous, lyrical writing.

Ideal accompaniments: Whiskey, cocktails, G&T.

Genre: Literary, Mystery

Available from Amazon

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