Villa of Delirium
Terrific.--Edmund de Waal, author of The Hare with Amber Eyes and Letters to Camondo
Makes you want to travel, do somersaults and stretches, drink champagne in evening dress, read, think ... Intoxicating.--Publishers Weekly
Along the French Riviera in the early 1900s, an illustrious family in thrall to classical antiquity builds a fabulous villa--a replica of a Greek palace, complete with marble columns and frescoes depicting mythological gods. The Reinachs--related to other wealthy Jews like the Rothschilds and the Ephrussis--attempt to recreate a pure beauty lost in the 20th century. The narrator of this brilliant novel calls the imposing house an act of delirium, proof that one could travel back in time, just like resetting a clock, and resist the outside world. The story of the villa and its glamorous inhabitants is recounted by the son of a servant from the nearby estate of Gustave Eiffel, designer of the Paris tower, and the two contrasting structures present opposite responses to modernity. The son is adopted by the Reinachs, initiated into the era of Socrates and instructed in classical Greek. He joins a family pilgrimage to Athens, falls in love with a married woman, and survives the Nazi confiscation of the house and deportation to death camps of Reinach grandchildren. This is a Greek epic for the modern era.
Reading group guide for Villa of Delirium is available free of charge at newvesselpress.com.
New Vessel Press, 9781939931801, 321pp.
Publication Date: August 18, 2020
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. Author Adrien Goetz is an art history professor and editor of the Louvre Museum’s magazine. He could have written a nonfiction history book about the Villa Kerylos, or a biography of Theodore Reinach. Why did he instead use a real setting, the Villa Kerylos, for a novel about a fictional character, Achilles?
2. How does the Eiffel Tower, designed by Gustave Eiffel, the friend of the Reinachs for whom Achilles’s mother works, relate to the Villa Kerylos? If one represents the past and history and the other the future, does Goetz (or Achilles) seem to prefer one or the other?
3. How does Theodore Reinach and his family’s love of ancient Greece affect the way they view the world?
4. Compare Achilles’s love affair with Ariadne to his relationship with other characters, the villa itself, and Alexander’s crown.
5. What role do war and violence play in Achilles’s life? What about in the life of the Villa Kerylos?
6. Joseph Reinach “survives in the collective memory… because Marcel Proust turned him into a character: Brichot, who bores all the guests at Madame Verdurin’s dinner parties.” How important are reputation and “collective memory” for the Reinachs?
7. Does the villa blueprint at the end of the book make reading easier or more interesting? How does Goetz use space to aid in the telling of his story?
8. The Dreyfus affair was a controversy about a Jewish captain in the French army named Alfred Dreyfus, who was convicted of treason, leading to a debate about nationalism and anti-Semitism in 19th century France. How does anti-Semitism manifest itself in the novel?
9. Veracity and forgery are important issues with respect to the Saitapharnes tiara and the golden crown of Alexander. Might the Villa Kerylos be considered a “forgery”?
10. Villa of Delirium is framed as a treasure hunt and ends with two mystery-like revelations. Do you see the book differently after reading the epilogue?