Saturday, December 29, 2012

Review: Seducing Ingrid Bergman by Chris Greenhalgh

Celebrated war photographer Robert Capa put himself in harm's way to capture the gritty, terrible, hell of war alongside the soldiers.  In the opening of this novelization focused on his pivotal affair with Ingrid Bergman, he parachutes into the French countryside with paratroopers, snapping pictures, dispassionately registering men dying around him.  He snaps blurry but important pictures of the storming of the beaches of Normandy as he follows so many young men into the churning bloodbath of that pivotal battle.  He is on hand for the end of World War II in Europe, living in Paris, battle-worn and tired, as the war winds down and the world tries to right itself.  Ingrid Bergman, the Academy Award winning actress whose life is stultifying, safe, and completely prescribed, has just arrived in Paris to entertain the troops still waiting to be returned home to the States when she meets Capa at the Ritz Hotel.
As these two very different people, both at a crossroads in their lives and searching for direction, come together in a passionate and brief all-consuming affair, they cannot escape their pasts or avoid their futures, only able to snatch a tiny piece of time out of time with each other.  Greenhalgh has vividly drawn a tortured Capa, hard-drinking, casual with money, and unable to envision life in a civilian world.  Capa narrates his own sections in first person, his inner turmoil and unsettled feeling coming through in a staccato and sometimes choppy voice.  Bergman's sections are narrated in the third person, making her character more remote and more of a cipher than Capa's character.  Constrained by her public image, the world's and her studio's expectations of her, and the very fact of her marriage to husband Petter plus the existence of her small daughter, Bergman has to subsume her desire for Capa and their love affair, keep it clandestine and private in order to ensure her seemingly assured Hollywood future. 
The story of their affair is told using very photographic imagery which occasionally tips over the top into something a little too saccharine, especially given the fact that their love story was in fact doomed to be destroyed by the glare of Hollywood, Capa's demons, and Bergman's obligations.  Both the post-WWII Parisian setting and the lushly successful Los Angeles scenes were sharply observed and cinematically described and Greenhalgh has woven both Capa's and Bergman's pasts skillfully into the narrative, adroitly placing their love in the larger context of their lives.  Their love may not have been destined to last forever but it was certainly pivotal for both of them, shaping each differently and driving them to their ultimate decisions.  Obviously, as both Capa and Bergman were real people, Greenhalgh has had to make them as believable as possible given what we know about them but he has added many thoughts and feelings that no one could have known, integrating his own inventions into the real life people and doing it well enough that we don't question the truth of their inner selves.  An intriguing read, fans of Golden Age Hollywood will certainly appreciate this glimpse of a moment in the life of one of the iconic actresses of the era, and all readers will most likely be inspired to visit (or revisit) Bergman's films and to search out Capa's amazing photographs in the wake of this novel.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

1 comment:

  1. This doesn't sound like a 'great' books but I'd no doubt still enjoy it, being the Bergman fan that I am.


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