It is 1951 and sisters Ginny and Meredith have travelled from England to Spain in search of distraction and respite. The two wars have wreaked loss and deprivation upon the family and the spectre of Meredith’s troubled childhood continues to haunt them.
While there they discover the artist Salvador Dali is staying in nearby Port Lligat. Meredith is fascinated by modern art and longs to meet the famous surrealist.
Dali is embarking on an ambitious new work, but his headstrong male model has refused to pose. A replacement is found, a young American waiter with whom Ginny has struck a tentative acquaintance.
A powerful story of love, sacrifice and the lengths we will go to for who – or what – we love.
Having just finished this book my initial thought is, ‘what a magnificent piece of historical fiction!’ As is often the case with books in this genre it wasn’t until the conclusion that I fully appreciated the book.
The book is about Dali’s work of art, Christ of Saint John of the Cross. Purchased shortly after its completion by an art gallery in Scotland. A stuntman named Russel Saunders posed for the figure of Christ and was suspended from a gantry to enable Dali to capture the angles of the body as it hung from a cross.
Jeremy Vine has created an incredible story around this piece of art, set mainly in Spain in the 1950s, where the painting was done. General Franco was in power and the region was beset by civil unrest. Visitors Ginny and Meredith are seeking respite and recovery and the trip proves to be life changing for both of them.
As suggested by the title this book is part love story as Ginny meets beautiful cliff diver Adam, who is keen to meet his idol, stuntman Russel Saunders. Meredith on the other hand is drawn to the region because of its links with Dali and so it is not simply by chance that this group meet.
I found the story fascinating and while I appreciate much of it is fiction I came out knowing more than I had when I started this book. More importantly I was left wanting to know more, about this piece of work, about Russel Saunders and of course the Spanish Civil War. This for me is the mark for great historical fiction, the weaving of a story around a historical moment which serves to educate and engage the reader.
The book started slowly, although the circumstances of Meredith and Ginny were fascinating and the Spanish scenery was pleasing and easy to read about. Aspects of the story were amusing, which I liked but later there were some truly shocking moments. An element of mystery set in 2001 added another aspect to the story which I loved as it unfolded and concluded the book most satisfyingly.
Put simply I thought this was brilliant, it ticked all of the boxes for great historical fiction, a fantastic story tapping into a fascinating character in Dali, brilliantly written and highly recommended.
A must for fans of historical fiction and available now to buy.
About the Author
Jeremy Vine is one of the UK’s best-known broadcasters. He presents a weekday show on Radio 2, radio’s most popular news programme. He also presents Jeremy Vine on Channel 5, a daily current affairs programme. Jeremy is an accomplished journalist and writer and has previously published two works of non-fiction. He lives in Chiswick with his wife and their two daughters.
This is the final day of the blogtour celebrating the publication of The Diver and the Lover on September 3rd. Details of others talking about this book are below. (I realise I am not on the poster – a a lesson for me to check properly when the graphics are sent)! Thanks to Jenny Platt at Hodder for the copy of this book.