Once Upon a Villa

Adventures on the French Riviera

Non-Fiction - Memoir
406 Pages
Reviewed on 02/06/2024
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    Book Review

Reviewed by C.R. Hurst for Readers' Favorite

Andrew Kaplan, an author better known for his best-selling spy thrillers and his award-winning television series, Homeland, takes a more light-hearted approach in his latest work, Once Upon a Villa: Adventures on the French Riviera, a memoir based upon his family’s time spent during the early 1980s in France, where he plans to finally finish the novel he hopes will lead to not only a lucrative publishing contract but also “writing that matters.” During this sojourn, he and his wife and toddler son hobnob with wealthy expatriates of the French Riviera, eat, drink, and spend too much while meeting celebrities like the royal family of Monaco, and writers such as Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange, while experiencing some of the tumultuous events of the 1980s such as The Challenger disaster and the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

Having been a young woman during that decade, many of the events described resonated with me, and I recognized many of the names dropped. One of my favorite celebrity encounters is Kaplan’s chance meeting with the tennis star Boris Becker when he is just starting his Grand Slam career, an encounter which proves unexpectedly poignant since Becker’s fall from grace has become fodder for the tabloid press more recently. Yet, I think my favorite bits of Once Upon a Villa concern the author’s relationship with his wife and son. Although Andrew and Anne love one another, they also recognize each other’s flaws in a way that only well-married people can. Their son Justin steals every scene in which he appears. I also appreciated Andrew Kaplan’s insights on the craft of writing and his ability to show how a country can have such a big influence, as he suggests in a closing remark: “France doesn’t belong to us; we just borrowed her for a while.”