Invitation to a Bonfire by Adrienne Celt – Review

Title: Invitation to a Bonfire

Author: Adrienne Celt

Genre: Historical Fiction / Literary Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing



Summary: from Amazon

A seductive, sensual and sinister love triangle set in 1930s America and inspired by the infamous Nabokov marriage

Zoya Andropova, a young Russian refugee, finds herself in an elite New Jersey boarding school. Having lost her family, her home and her sense of purpose, Zoya struggles to belong, a task made more difficult by her new country’s paranoia about Soviet spies.

When she meets charismatic fellow Russian émigré Leo Orlov – whose books Zoya has obsessed over for years – everything seems to change. But she soon discovers that Leo is bound by the sinister orchestrations of his brilliant wife, Vera, and that their relationship is far more complex than Zoya could ever have imagined.


I first heard about Invitation to a Bonfire a few months ago. It is apparently loosely inspired by the marriage between Vladimir Nabokov and his wife Vera. I must confess to not knowing a great deal about Nabokov, nor have I read Lolita or his other books but I find Russian history and literature fascinating so this story really appealed to me.

Invitation to a Bonfire is told via the diary entries of Zoya, the young Russian orphan who ends up at an American girls school in the 20’s and assorted other documents such as letters from Leo to his wife Vera. This format gives the book an intimate feeling which suits the story perfectly. The writing is the most remarkable aspect of this book. Celt writes in such a vividly descriptive way. The prose is beautiful and incredibly skilful.

I found the characters hugely interesting, the events all revolve around the three main characters, Zoya, Leo and Vera and they all come across as very intense and multi-layered. I have to say I found Leo pretty unlikeable. The author portrays him perfectly as very much in love with his own perceived talent and importance. The two women felt slightly more complex to me. However, because we never really get Vera’s point of view, the reader can only see her through the eyes of Leo and Zoya which makes her seem detached and cold within the story. It also gives Vera a glamorous mysterious quality which makes her character appear to hold all the power. Being totally honest, the culmination of events in Invitation to a Bonfire feels slightly anticlimactic in a way and the plot does take a while to really go anywhere. What saves the book is the quality and expertise of the writing which makes reading it enjoyable no matter what happens. So, if you’re looking for a novel full of action and twists then this isn’t it but if you want to read something more contemplative and meandering, Invitation to a Bonfire is very much worth investing some time in.

Overall I think this book is a bit of a mixed bag for me. I absolutely loved the gorgeous writing and intriguing characterisation but I felt the plot didn’t hold my attention completely and was a little on the slow-moving side. I would definitely read more from Adrienne Celt as I think she’s so talented and I think Invitation to a Bonfire is worth reading as it feels original and different to anything I’ve read before.


I received this e-arc from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s