Source: Review copy
Publication: 3 September 2020 from Coronet
My thanks to the publisher for a review copy of this novel
Soaked in sunlight, love and the mysteries surrounding a famous artist The Diver and the Lover is a novel inspired by true events.
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. Their journey to the rugged peninsula of Catalonia promises hope and renewal.
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 up a tentative acquaintance.
The lives of the characters become entangled as family secrets, ego and the dangerous politics of Franco’s Spain threaten to undo the fragile bonds that have been forged.
A powerful story of love, sacrifice and the lengths we will go to for who – or what – we love.
I knew I had to read this book as soon as I knew that the painting that inspired it was Dali’s St John of the Cross. This painting had such a massive impact on me growing up. It was the one painting my parents took me to see, such was its fame and such had been the ruckus about the cost of its purchase.
It loomed above me at the top of a grand staircase in Kelvingrove and the sheer luminosity of the painting is amazing; so it was not really surprising to me that Jeremy Vine should also be captivated by it – and by its story.
Though there are some small parts of the actual story as related by Vine that I think aren’t quite right, that doesn’t get in the way of what is an amazing true story and which Vine has built on to give us some depth and background to the reign of terror that was Franco’s Spain and to Dali – himself a Fascist sympathiser.
Ginny and Meredith are sisters, though they have not been brought up together. Meredith suffers from mental health problems as a result of a traumatic upbringing and Ginny, her younger, teenage half-sister, is really the one who takes the lead. They have travelled to Catalonia from Hull for a holiday and to help Meredith overcome the terrible things she has lived through. Meredith loves modern art – something she shared with her long deceased mother and so has chosen Catalonia because of her fascination with Dali who is then living in Port Lligat not far from the hotel where they are staying.
Also in the hotel is American stuntman Russell Saunders. He’s being paid a significant sum to be a model for Dali, and he is chaperoned by the most awful PR woman, Siobhan Lynch, there to make sure that Dali’s requirements are adhered to so that her firm can earn their share of Saunders’ fee.
A young waiter called Adam is also living and working in the hotel as a waiter. He comes to Ginny and Meredith’s attention because it is his habit to make the most beautiful and stunning dive from a high cliff every morning.
From these characters Vine creates a carefully woven narrative that brings in Dali, his partner Elena Dmitrievna Diakonova (known as Gala) and Dali’s passion and art; Franco’s Spain and the resistance movement and an overwhelming story of love, art, secrets and grand passions that spans half a century.
The reader will learn of Dr Tom Honeyman’s purchase of the Christ of Saint John of the Cross for the City of Glasgow Corporation – a purchase which, at the time, was very controversial. Vine takes real characters and weaves them into a fictional narrative that offers a story of danger, love, sacrifice and betrayal.
Meredith’s love of art will be the catalyst for bringing together all these characters and over the course of time the sisters will understand the nature of what it is to be exploited and betrayed and will come to learn about art and passion and true sacrifice.
Verdict: It is the sweep and the dark passion of this novel that makes it work for much of the time, though there is a slight tendency towards melodrama. There are elements of the story that seem out of their time, and this is a bit distracting. I was also a little unsure of Vine’s depiction of a young girl in a foreign country and how she might behave. But I gloss over these for the good of the story, which does work and which helpfully has Dali’s own flamboyant and unconventional behaviour to assist in establishing a base for this, also sometimes flamboyant, narrative.
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, and he fronts Eggheads, one of the longest-running quiz shows in British TV history. 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.