Mr Wilder & Me is not in any way a state- of-the-nation novel — and thank goodness. Brilliant as Jonathan Coe’s last work, Middle England, was, I’m not sure I could stomach a fictional barometer of pandemic Britain. Coe’s new book is instead a comfortingly nostalgic coming-of-age novel, or rather, a coming-of-old-age novel, probing the twilight years of a Hollywood great.
Billy Wilder is predominantly famous for his work in the Golden Age of Hollywood, when post-war studios had plenty of cash to splash on the Oscar-winning comedies and noirs Wilder wrote and directed, including Sunset Boulevard, Some Like it Hot and The Apartment. Here, though, we meet him not in his heyday but in the 1970s, through the eyes of the young, wide-eyed narrator Calista, on the Greek set of one of his less successful films, Fedora, about an ageing movie star.