Emmy Award–winning actress Walker debuts as a novelist with this love letter to Venice, written in the guise of a romance about an American woman who takes a hiatus from her unhappy marriage.
Former actress Nel is touring Europe with her famous musician husband Antony. After an argument, Nel impulsively leaves him on a train and returns to Venice. Taking a walk, she saves a lost Chihuahua from hooligans. The dog belongs to the aging Signora da Isola, called Lucy by friends. Soon Nel has checked out of her hotel, The Gritti Palace, and moved in with Lucy, a gifted gardener who has lived in self-imposed isolation since her husband’s early death. Also staying in Lucy’s historic palazzo, a former convent, is the handsome Matteo, who is restoring a fresco discovered on one of the walls. Soon Lucy, Matteo and Nel stumble upon a connection between the convent and Giorgione, a brilliant 16th-century painter whose La Tempeste is considered a masterpiece to equal Bellini or da Vinci. A young woman’s letters are discovered, then the inevitable diary which describes Giorgione’s love affair with a high-born, young Venetian woman named Clara. A talented artist herself, Clara was raised by a wicked stepmother who tried to thwart her talent and her romance. But Clara, who painted the fresco while pregnant with Giorgione’s son, grabbed her brief shot at happiness before the Plague cut her and Giorgione’s lives short. While Nel and her new friends learn more about Clara and Giorgione, she is increasingly drawn into the sense of community evolving among the art historians and scholars who surround Lucy, in particular sensitive Matteo. Nel occasionally talks by phone to Antony without resolving their unspoken separation. Unfortunately, the novel’s conversations and interactions seldom ring true, and Nel, with her pretentious musings, is not likable or believable.
Only by skipping the plot and dialogue may Venice-lovers find kernels of pleasure in the physical/sensual description of the city’s history, art, food and architecture.