Firefly by Janette Jenkins

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Firefly by Janette Jenkins

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Virginia Croft
Reviewed by Virginia Croft
Summary: A languid, stumbling waltz through the last weeks of Noel Coward's life.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 212 Date: June 2014
Publisher: Vintage Books
ISBN: 9780099575047

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I read Firefly wanting to be charmed. Sat at home, wishing I was in Jamaica, idly humming 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen'.

This Noel Coward is old, tired and far from the flamboyant character we all think of when his name is uttered. The midday sun is an anathema to him; his manservant constantly trying to persuade him to take a stroll; and Noel, constantly trying to avoid it.

We see glimpses of the old Noel, as he slips back and forth between 'now' and 'then'. The then: the glamorous days, the lovers, the glitz, music, champagne cocktails. And now? Heat, desperate weariness, and an overwhelming sense of ennui. This Noel seems to consider himself an exile. There are numerous references to being unwelcome in England. But was this a self-imposed exile?

I admit I have a sketchy knowledge of the man. A fleeting image of velvet smoking jacket, languidity and a cutting wit, combined with an enduring talent. So, shame on me, I had to look him up. For that is one thing about this novel. It makes you want to know. Perhaps shaming an ignoramus such as me for not knowing. My whistle-stop tour of the life and times of Noel Coward show a man similar to the one I had imagined, but the references to being unable to return to England had made me suppose that it had been his sexual predilections that had had him driven out. The truth? Tax reasons or so sources tell me, although Coward denied it.

I loved Patrice, Coward's manservant. Both men dreaming of a different London. Coward's of the past, Patrice's of his imagination. I loved the times when Coward's pity, bitchy, lecherous side showed through. His swearing at Patrice, and the wonderful scene where he made a reporter from the Express back away.

So did I find the charm that I wanted? Yes and no. Part two of the novel concentrated less on Coward as a tired old man, although that was still woven in. But we saw some hope, vibrance, and reminders of the salad days.

I finished this book feeling I need to read it again. Janette Jenkins' writing is beautiful. Languid, slow-moving and beautifully crafted. But perhaps like the Jamaica of my imagining, I have to experience it over, fully immerse myself before I can appreciate it thoroughly.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy Agatha Christie: An English Mystery by Laura Thompson. You might also enjoy Angel of Brooklyn by Janette Jenkins.

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