REVIEWED BY DEBS CARR
Last Dance With Valentino is written as a diary and moves back and forth from 1916 when the protagonist, Jenny Doyle (also Lola Nightingale) first meets Rodolfo Guglielmi (later known as Rudolph Valentino) at the estate of Mr and Mrs de Saulles who have employed her father, an unreliable artist to paint Mrs de Saulles portrait. Jenny and her father leave England and arrive in America to take up this new post and no sooner have they arrived at the lavish home, The Box, when Jenny discovers that she is to be nanny to the couple's son, Jack.
Rudolfo is at the estate as a dance teacher, although it seems he is also more intimate with the hostess than Jenny would like. She is smitten when he discovers her outside and asks her to dance with him out on the terrace. Jenny's father falls in love with the unhappy mistress of the house, who is in turn in love with Rudolpho. When Mrs De Saulles walks into the nursery and catches Rudolpho and Jenny together, she retaliates by taking Rudolpho (Rudy) with her to New York and insists that Jenny's father is paid for the work he's done and is fired. He is told to leave the property immediately, but Jenny must stay and work for them. As her father needs the money to survive, she relucantly agrees to their terms.
Her employers go through a difficult divorce and Rudolpho doesn't visit the house again. A year or so later Jenny bumps into him in New York and when he tells her how he's missed her, she's surprised as he was fully aware she was still working at The Box. It transpires that he has sent letters and and even tried to visit her father several times in order to make contact with Jenny, but her father had refused to see him. After an appearance in court, Jenny leaves for Hollywood to follow Rudy, but life doesn't go quite according to plan.
The book alternates between her life from 1916 when she first meets Rudy and becomes embroiled with her employers' problems and 1926 when Jenny writes about spending a glorious weekend with Rudy, now a superstar surrounded by adoring women conspiring to be with him, whilst she waits for him in the hotel room. She's waiting for him to turn up for lunch when she discovers to her horror the reason why he hasn't appeared.
Although Last Dance With Valentino is written from Jenny's point of view, her story is supposedly that of Rudy Valentino's lost love and the mysterious woman who left a red rose on his grave for years. We probably can't imagine today what an idol he was to millions of women.
Daisy Waugh writes beautifully and this clever and observant book is certainly one to enjoy. When she writes about the different characters in the book, some real, others imagined, it takes you to a world that was so extreme, yet utterly compelling and fascinating and although this is obviously a romance that doesn't end happily, there's a twist at the end that fitted the story perfectly.
Last Dance With Valentine is published in paperback by HarperCollins on 4th August 2011
You can find out more about Daisy Waugh at the HarperCollins site.