Orringer, Julie. The Flight Portfolio. Knopf New York, 2019. F; 6/19.
I was really impressed with Orringer’s other two books The Invisible Bridge and How to Breathe Underwater, but this one didn’t work for me. It tells the story of historical well-educated journalist Varian Fry’s work in the south of France during World War II, finding ways to get important (authors, scientists, political figures) Jews out of Nazi-occupied France. There’s plot excitement and the intrigue of real people like Marc Chagall and Hannah Arendt, comparable to that in The Invisible Bridge, and finely-detailed Gatsby-like contemporary flavour of wealthy well-educated Americans in mid-20th-century.
But Fry is presented as gay (which a bit of research suggests he probably wasn’t) and the romantic heart of the story is his relationship with a friend from University who turns up in France. We have to be impressed with Orringer’s realism rendering gay male characters, but I quit two-thirds of the way through the book because… I guess I’d be called homophobic by a lot of people. I’m not. It was the same experience I had with Alan Hollinghurst’s Line of Beauty: the strong graphic gay sex didn’t do anything for me, and without real sex interest the rest of the story didn’t have the scale and depth of Orringer’s other work.
Hard to rate, but I would say not for everybody.