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Random scenes and sexual exploits from the life of Italian poet/adventurer Gabriele D'Annunzio, Filtered through a mandarin prose that shows British novelist MacBeth (The Katana, Anna's Book) at his most self-indulgent. A chronology of D'Annunzio's life (1863-1938) is appended to the novel; this gives the reader some purchase on a thoroughly confusing second-person narrative, cast in the form of a homage to the poet from his longtime secretary/confidant, Tomaso Antongini. Tomaso apostrophizes his employer as ""a paragon of all the vices,"" his affection for him surviving the revelation that the old boy had once achieved orgasm by defecating on the secretary's 11-year-old daughter. The story begins in 1916, as the temporarily blinded D'Annunzio recuperates in Venice from a seaplane crash, then moves back to 1910 and France, where the poet, having fled his Italian creditors, is threading his way through a bevy of importunate mistresses, such as Madame de Goloubeff, who ""breathes the mood of a Dostoevsky heroine through the nostrils of a Coan slave-gift shaped in Parian marble, no doubt by the hand of Praxiteles,"" and who ""became an expert in those oral attentions you so much craved. I can sense those rosy cheeks, as of a Venus disturbed at her washing, and the bow of the lips opening like a sea-anemone to enclose the darling stalk of your eagerness."" The second half does become more straightforward, as Tomaso relates how D'Annunzio (now a war hero) annexed and ruled (for a year) the port of Flume, had a brief alliance with Mussolini, and then retreated into the indulgence of his ""weirdest appetites"" and the contemplation of his own decline. D'Annunzio had a fascinating life, but he has been ill-served by this account, which is more of an embalming job than a dramatic reconstruction.

Pub Date: March 18th, 1986
Publisher: Jonathan Cape--dist. by Merrimack