Jonathan Grey, the pale-and-wan young narrator of this wispy, rather juvenile first novel, is a onetime architecture student who now (retreating from life after a bad love affair) makes his Hampstead living by reading aloud to the ill, elderly, and blind. Then, however, Jonathan moves from ""a life of the imagination"" to a ""life of action""--when one of his clients, rich old Rowland Petrie, asks Jonathan to go looking for bis missing granddaughter: lovely cellist Beatrice Petrie, it seems, disappeared some months ago, after visiting her great-aunt's villa in Italy's Chianti region. So Jonathan, at first reluctant but then convinced ""that I was indeed the best person to look"" for Beatrice, is off to the village of Grave. He stays with Petrie's quiet, widowed sister; he retraces Beatrice's steps; using his fluent Italian, he meets the local gentry--including renowned Dante scholar Vittorio Innocenti, a castle-dwelling count. Then, after discovering the Divina Com-media and learning the Dante/Beatrice story, Jonathan becomes convinced that the count (suffering from a Dante-obsessed split personality) must have abducted Beatrice Petrie. But eventually, despite some mild attempts at sleuthing and derring-do, Jonathan learns that the whole Beatrice caper has been a wild-goose chase: dear Mr. Petrie's benevolent scheme to get Jonathan out of his isolated, passive rut. And he does, in fact, escape that rut--falling in love with Catherine, a passionate Etruscologist. More a long short story than a novel, then, with just enough literary/scenic atmosphere (Dante scholarship, Tuscany backgrounds) to make it pleasantly slight rather than painfully thin.
Pub Date: Nov. 20, 1983
Page Count: -
Publisher: Secker & Warburg--dist. by David & Charles