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Published on July 29th, 2013


Firefly by Janette Jenkins

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Blurb: On a secluded hillside in Jamaica lies Firefly, Noël Coward’s peaceful retreat. Here, between sundowners and sunsets, brandies and cigarettes, the seventy-one-year-old Coward whiles away his days – a comforting, frustrating pattern of unwanted breakfasts, reluctant walks, graceless dips in the pool – in the company of his manservant Patrice. Both of them dream of a London that is long-gone or imagined: Noël’s peopled with glamorous friends – Redgrave, Olivier, O’Toole – and Patrice’s a picture-postcard vision of elegance and opportunity. (Chatto & Windus)

Christian House, The Independent on Sunday

“The book’s success really lies in the refined ventriloquism employed in detailing such a famous protagonist. There are glints of Coward’s varied personas: the clipped-vowel actor; the barbed wordsmith; the musical jester; the generous friend; the incorrigible flirt. The voice always rings true. When Patrice offers to type his own Ritz reference, Coward quips: “There’s nothing like a man tapping his Corona.””

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Suzi Feay, The Financial Times

Firefly is a light-footed homage to a writer who means much to Jenkins, though she is not uncritical. Coward’s plight and gallantry command our compassion, even as his snappishness towards Miguel and Patrice, met with good humour and kindness, deteriorates into petty cruelty. It’s the little touches that linger, such as the discovery that this most sophisticated of souls liked nothing better of an evening than to reread an E Nesbit novel, accompanied by a stiff brandy.”

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Mark Sanderson, The Telegraph

“Jenkins evokes the early Seventies with aplomb. She also proves a virtuoso ventriloquist. To cover so much ground in so few words, to bring back such a big personality with such brevity, is no mean feat. Fireflyshimmers with the all the passion and transience of life.”

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Harry Ritchie, The Daily Mail

“An end-of-life present intercut with flashbacks from the past isn’t exactly a new format, but Janette Jenkins makes excellent use of it here with a restrained and mostly very convincing re-creation of Coward in old age.”

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Allan Massie, The Scotsman

One wonders whether Jenkins might not have written a more satisfying novel based on her idea of Coward if she had given her character another name. Certainly if you blank out whatever idea of Noël Coward you may have, there is much to enjoy and admire. The depiction of the tribulations of old age and failing health is sympathetic and touching, the wanderings of memory convincing.

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