Mr. Wilder and Me by Jonathan Coe
A fictional biography of Billy Wilder’s years as a filmmaker by a young woman who accidentally finds herself working with his company is warm and full. A joy to read.
The warm tone of this interesting fictional biography creates a friendly atmosphere that is quite pleasant to occupy for the duration of the narrative. Written by a man as a woman, the voice seems genuine and sincere in spite of the expected difference in viewpoints between male and female. The facts revealed about Wilder’s life and work are fascinating even for those who do not count themselves among the legion of film buffs. He was an exceptional person whose experiences included tragic aspects associated with the holocaust but who forged his own destiny with vision and perseverance. The dark aspects of his mother’s fate were threaded throughout even until his demise. He never ceased to search for her, although she disappeared into the camps as so many others.
The bright personality of the protagonist illuminates the story with a lively curiosity and a desire to become something more than an ordinary cog in the wheel of life. She makes the most of her good fortune and contributes a personal drive for success to the serendipitous circumstances of becoming, nearly by accident, the assistant to Iz Diamond, Wilder’s life-long collaborator. In this position she is witness to the ups and downs of Wilder’s film making work as well as the high and low points of his personal life. Both are portrayed with an honest sympathy that falls short of hagiographic, making the tale resonate with truth. Warts and all, in short, but always with a loving look.
The writing is crisp and paced with satisfying vigor that keeps the reader’s attention easily and comfortably focused. Clearly Coe is a skilled craftsman. The revelations about filmmaking add to the interest of the whole and flesh out the story with gratifying solidity. Taken altogether, theme, execution and detail combine to provide a completely satisfying read.