Friday, July 17, 2015

Venetian comfort

The Comfort of Strangers, by Ian McEwan, is a strange little novel, set in Venice. One of his early works. It's short, and nothing much happens.

I'm not sure how he achieves it, but the novel has a very sinister tone — the sense that something's lurking in an alleyway or canal. Venice is labyrinthine and mysterious.

McEwan in my view excels at depicting relationships in all their nuance; what little is spoken between characters speaks volumes. Although the details of the story may seems far-fetched, the characters are very real.

And the title tantalizes. I'm still wondering who is seeking comfort from whom, who are the real strangers in this story?
She appeared greedy for the fact of conversation rather than its content; she inclined her head towards him, as though bathing her face in the flow of his speech.
I like this review in New York Times that manages to tell you everything about the novel without actually spoiling any of it, and still make you want to read it. "No reader will begin The Comfort of Strangers and fail to finish it; a black magician is at work."

The movie also is worth watching. It has a terrific cast. And scripted by Harold Pinter, it's mostly true to the novel.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Reading Italian style

I leave for Italy next week, and as such I've been reading all things Italian.

Here are two guidebooks I recommend:

Italy, Insight Guides is a little short on logistical details but big on flavour. This is the book I turned to to help me decide what regions I wanted to visit, but I'll probably leave the book at home.

Secret Venice is a treasure trove of weird and wonderful stories concerning the nooks and crannies of Venice, of which there appear to be plenty. Like the graffiti image of a human heart, scratched by a stonecutter who slept in the doorway upon witnessing a Levantine Venetian stab his mother and tear out her heart.

So yes, Venice is on the itinerary, followed by Florence, then Rome, with day trips here and there. (And as part of our preparation, we've been replaying Assassin's Creed II, to familiarize ourselves with the lay of the land.)

Quite apart from practical research, I've also been stocking up on novels set in those places. My reading material for the journey includes:

I've already started the McEwan, and it's short and very compelling and it'll be done before I leave. And I'm excited about the Moravia because it was referenced in Mad Men. But it strikes me that these novels are all a little dark. Perhaps something a little lighter, more gelato-inspired, is in order.

Do you have any Venice-to-Rome reading recommendations for me?