In 156 pages Janette Jenkins imagines Noel Coward's last weeks at his Jamaican retreat, blending his final decline with memories of his entire life, including his many gay affairs and his decades-long relationship with actor Graham Payn. Appearing in the UK last summer to strong reviews, Firefly [Kindle] has yet to take off in the US after October's soft release. In a group review, the NYT called it "beautifully observed... moving drama." Writing for The Telegraph Mark Sanderson said,
"As he floats in his turquoise pool, dreams and memories waft him into the past, where he rubs shoulders with Dietrich, Garland and Olivier. From the window of his London flat he is transported back by the sight of a passer-by blowing suggestively on a hot chip. Thus two worlds collide: glamorous Hollywood and the amorous homosexual underground. There are many brief encounters.
"Nevertheless, Coward tries, as always, to maintain appearances and to put on a good performance. Lord Mountbatten described Coward as fourteen men in one, and Jenkins shows all the facets of this supremely multitalented man. 'The Master' – 'Jack of all trades; master of none' – is by turns witty, charming, kind, querulous, proud, dithering and distressed. This portrait reveals him to be delightful to know and frightful to live with – which is probably why no one does. Loneliness is the price he pays for splendid isolation.
"The result is not depressing, though Scenes of camp comedy relieve the encroaching darkness. One in which Coward mercilessly teases a Daily Express reporter... is hilarious.
"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."