A former actress struggles with a bout of spiritual ennui in this memoir.
Lewis (Between Men, 1995) had a life that most people would envy: she was married to a successful movie producer; enjoyed glamorous careers as an actress, model, and writer; and traveled the globe. However, in 2004, when she was in her 50s, she was struck with regret and furious at the prospect that she had squandered her promise: “Is this it? Is this the life I meant myself to have?” She stumbled upon a book, The Unquiet Grave by the literary critic Cyril Connolly, and she related to his desire for a house in France; later, she was invited to visit an English friend of hers in the French countryside. While there, she fell in love with an old, dilapidated château and decided to buy it as a summer home and oversee its much-needed renovations. The author’s husband was incensed, she says, but he reluctantly paid most of the cost of the house and loaned her a substantial sum for the repairs. Lewis’ memoir jumps back and forth in time, recounting a life of youthful adventure as well as her struggle to superintend an exasperatingly complex construction project. She tells of growing up in England, attending school in France, and eventually becoming a model, a minor actress in mostly B movies, and finally, a serious writer. Along the way, she rubbed shoulders with plenty of celebrities, including Roman Polanski, with whom she says she had an affair, and Orson Welles. The author’s prose is refined and worldly, and she memorably and candidly provides keen insights into the decades she inhabited; for example, her libertine response to her discomfort over the 1960s sexual revolution doubles as astute social commentary. However, some readers may find it difficult to truly empathize with her existential torment, which, given the enormous privilege that she’s enjoyed, seems disconnected from real, abiding struggle. Her life story is a truly fascinating one, and readers may be tempted to wonder why it’s the source of so much frustration.
An account of an extraordinary life, marred by excessive angst.