SUDDENLY, IN ROME by Max Davidson


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Here, British Davidson, an old hand with the comic novel (Hugger Mugger, 1987, etc.), attempts the lightest sort of black comedy--about a passel of Englishmen in Rome who've clearly been out too long in the noonday sun. Protagonist Mark Barham is a once-serious writer who's succumbed to the lure of the buck to subsidize the high life in Rome. Suddenly, Geoffrey Danes, the husband of his ex-lover, Helen, shows up on his doorstep, pleading with him to take the role of Camille in a doomed production of The Winter's Tale; and Mark agrees, principally because it will bring him in contact with Helen again, whom he hasn't seen for 8 years but still loves. Geoffrey, a kind of T.E. Lawrence of Shakespeare, is too loony about the bard's work to see how wretchedly rehearsals are going--""Shakespeare's great story of jealous love being travestied into extinction."" Meanwhile, Mark gets a gentle brushoff from Helen and takes to dogging her steps through Rome--only to discover that she's seeing a handsome Italian journalist. Blithely, Mark buys a knife and kills his rival; then during a cast picnic at Lake Bracciano, Helen drowns. But the show goes on, with Mark recognizing how selfish his love for Helen has been, just as the Italian police show up. This plays cleverly with themes from Shakespeare's romantic tragedy and sports patches of its own amusing farce; but the end is muddy, with Mark's spiritual rejuvenation mired in his impending incarceration in a Roman clink. Ironic, yes, but hardly sharp enough to make its mark.

Pub Date: Dec. 15th, 1988
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton--dist. by David & Charles