Reviewed by Lisa Bentley
Rome 1961. As the camera rolls on the film set of Cleopatra, the Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton love affair is about to capture the world’s attention.
When Diana Bailey arrives on set to begin work as a historical advisor, tensions are running high. The film is in financial crisis and a media storm is brewing over the Taylor-Burton relationship.
As Diana adjusts to a new life away from her troubled marriage, she strikes up a close friendship with Helen, a young make-up artist, and seeks solace in Ernesto, a charismatic member of the film crew. But Helen is harbouring a dark secret of her own, one that will affect Diana in more ways than she could ever imagine…
Diana Bailey has never wanted for much, but then she has never had very much nor has she ever needed for much either. Her life is simple, she is married to a professor, works as a specialist in the field of Egyptian studies and her life if very much the same everydayness every day. That is until she gets invited to work on the most exciting feature film of the 1960s. Cleopatra.
Diana heads to Italy, much to her husband’s annoyance and starts to discover a whole new world, one so very different from the hum drum existence that she has been living. However, Diana soon realises her new life may be exciting but it comes at a cost.
Gill Paul, who has previously written fiction based around historical events has cleverly juxtaposed the relationship between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton with her fictional counterparts Diana and Trevor Bailey. As the affair between Taylor and Burton develops so do Diana’s feelings for Ernesto, a member of the films crew, and thus the parallels between Elizabeth Taylor and Diana Bailey begin.
Essentially, this book is about relationships and fidelity. This should have been enough to drive the plot however at times the plot is driven more by location and the setting i.e. the set of Cleopatra.
At times The Affair does seem to drag; whether the languorous pages are meant to reflect the
sumptuousness of life in Italy is a style choice is unknown. It does take time to get into the plot and when the action does get going it then seems to be over far too quickly. With so many threads of the storyline this shouldn’t have been an issue but it has to be said that I found myself wondering too often ‘how long until the end of the chapter?’
What is a shame is that the secondary characters such as news reporter Scott and make-up artist Helen have interesting storylines that do help the ebb and flow of the story but could have been made more of rather than just to facilitate the main characters storylines.
Overall, The Affair is a slow starter. It has the makings of being a great book but flounders somewhere at being a good one. That is not to say it is not worth a read; it definitely is. Especially for those who find the glamour and allure of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s affair exciting; if you are intrigued by the underhanded world of the media in the 1960s and those who like a good Mafioso story then this book does have all of these elements. I’m just not convinced that the story is as developed as it could have been.
Amazon links: Paperback or Kindle