Saturday, April 19, 2008

the last book I read

Happy Ending by Francesca Duranti.

My recent changes in transport capability have meant that I now have less reading time available to me - specifically, the three-quarters of an hour or so I'd get during the bus/train combo which made up my journey home is no longer available to me - you can read a book while steaming over the Severn Bridge at 70mph, but it's not generally advisable. This isn't a complaint, as the benefits of car ownership vastly outweigh the drawbacks, but I do find I now have to consciously make time to read. Luckily this particular book is quite short anyway.

We're in Tuscany, in summer. Violante, the aging matriarch of an old aristocratic family, waits for her family to congregate at the familial estate and frets about who will take over the running of the estate after her death. And frets with good reason, as her surviving family are a bit of a mess. Son Leopoldo and his American wife Cynthia have a strange sexless relationship while Leopoldo conducts half-hearted affairs with other women. Daughter-in-law Lavinia is a strange, neurotic, child-like creature, seduced and then abandoned by a series of unsuitable men, including Violante's late son Filippo, whose method of abandonment was more spectacular than most - driving his car off a viaduct.

Watching over them is family friend, neighbour, former art forger and now respected art dealer Aldo, who also acts as an on-off narrator of various parts of the story.

The obligatory fly in the ointment to shake the family out of their various neuroses is provided in the shape of Marco, a school friend of Lavinia's (absent) son Nicola who drops in while on a backpacking trip. Young, pretty and monosyllabic, he casts a spell over the whole family, from a couple of borderline homoerotic encounters with Leopoldo by the swimming pool, to a perfunctory seduction of Lavinia after she lets him stay at her villa.

Having been thus shaken up, the pieces of the family fall back together in a more satisfying arrangement for all concerned: Leopoldo and Cynthia finally consummate their ten-year marriage, and Aldo's decades-long unrequited love for Lavinia looks like it may finally bear fruit. His narrative purpose fulfilled, Marco then departs.

So, happy endings all round, as the title suggests. And very nice too, in a fairly lightweight sort of way. This New York Times review compares it to John Updike, though I think that's probably being a bit generous.

No comments: