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PIPPA PASSES by Rumer Godden


by Rumer Godden

Pub Date: Nov. 28th, 1994
ISBN: 0-688-13397-5
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Godden (Great Grandfather's House, 1993, etc.) is known for sentimental, old-fashioned morality tales, and this absurdity is no exception. Pippa is the youngest and newest member of a British ballet troupe traveling to Venice, where she and the other dancers attract the attention of young Italian men, who speak in charming broken English. Unfortunately, while Godden apparently has a great, blind love for Venice and includes lengthy passages of local color (``the pageant of the piazza, its colonnades, the domes''), she has failed to bone up on some basic facts (i.e., the Italian version of the name Paul is Paolo, not ``Paulo''). From the opening pages, it is perfectly clear where this one is headed, particularly since Godden occasionally pops in a section from the side of Nicolï, a young Venetian gondolier. Pippa's trials—for a young woman must always have trials in this type of book—are musty. Godden tries to wed the primmer and homophobic values of an earlier era with contemporary characters. Pippa struggles to balance her admiration for the ballet mistress Angharad with Angharad's mysterious dislike for her best friend Juliet, whom Angharad calls ``common and...a tart,'' and to combine singing with Nicolï's fledgling band with her dance rehearsals and performances. She also befriends Nicolï's employer, a wealthy, church-going British marchesa living the grand life. When Angharad makes a clumsy pass at her protÇgÇe, Pippa flees to Nicolï, who is sleeping in his gondola, which is about as realistic as a New York cabbie camping out in Central Park for the night. Sex here is bewildering: Angharad is fired because she should not be working around pretty girls; the word lesbian is never uttered. On the heterosexual front, Pippa is offended that Nicolï has taken care of birth control. Nicolï, too, turns out to have his faults, and Pippa leaves Venice—what else?—older and wiser. It would be difficult to find a clichÇ about love, Italy, or art that Godden has missed. As full of garbage as Venice's famed canals.