In his new novel, Carey reAdrienne Celt’s second novel follows a young Russian girl as she is drawn into a complex love triangle with a brilliant novelist and his ambitious wife. Told via a collection of diary entries, letters and documents bequeathed to an elite high school in memory of the famous Russian novelist who briefly taught there, ‘Invitation to a Bonfire’ is a cleverly constructed novel about love, obsession and revenge.
Zoe Andropova, an orphaned refugee from the newly formed Soviet Union, is enrolled as a charity case at a boarding school where she tries her best to fit in with her wealthy classmates. After graduation, with no real options, Zoe takes a job in the school’s newly constructed greenhouse where she is cruelly bullied and ostracized by the students. Desperately lonely, she is especially vulnerable to the attentions of visiting writer Leo Orlov. Even his calculating wife, Vera, whom Zoe remembers meeting isn’t a deterrent, and Lev and Zoe begin a passionate affair. Before Leo leaves on a dangerous trip to locate an early manuscript, he begs Zoe to help free him from the marriage. As they plan a future together, Zoe realises that the relationship between the Orlovs is far more complex than she ever realised.
Lev and Vera are very loosely based on Nabokov and his wife, Vera. Vera was well known as the translator and critic of her husband’s most famous works, and the novel pays homage to the great writer in Celt’s use of an unreliable narrator and a title that’s echoes one of Nabokov’s earlier novels. But the cunning plot and Celt’s singular, sparkling prose are very much her own.

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