ITALIAN FEVER by Valerie Martin


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The awakening (in more senses than one) of an American woman in Italy is the familiar subject of this stylish though overattenuated sixth novel from the author of such inventive fictions as Mary Reilly (1990) and The Great Divorce (1994). The woman is Lucy Stark, a 30ish independent scholar whose work as “assistant” to a lowbrow popular novelist (identified as “DV—) requires her presence in Tuscany to arrange a funeral after DV’s accidental death. A “practical, reliable” sort and a disillusioned divorcÇe who “had come to prefer liberty to passion,” Lucy nevertheless gradually surrenders to Tuscany’s gustatory and sensual pleasures, falling into an affair with her Italian contact, Massimo Compitelli. Like a very Victorian heroine, Lucy sees (or hallucinates) a ghost or two, and even more intriguingly discovers a startlingly expressionist drawing of a recognizable DV in agony, a “nightmarish vision” perhaps created by DV’s most recent mistress, artist Catherine Bultman, who has unaccountably disappeared. Recovering slowly from an enervating fever (and more slowly from her infatuation with the manipulative Massimo), Lucy eventually sorts out the connections among the aforementioned secondary characters, DV’s unfinished manuscript (a ghost story with a disturbing basis in reality), and the suspiciously urbane Antonio Cini, scion of an aristocratic family with tangled roots in Italy’s embattled Fascist and “Partisan” history. Martin keeps us hooked on several interrelated puzzles for most of her story’s length (though Lucy’s interlude in Rome drags annoyingly, despite numerous dramatic disclosures) and climaxes it smartly following a viewing of Pierro della Francesca’s sublime “Resurrection——with a credibly intricate explanation of why and how the unfortunate DV “got lost in Italy forever—. An efficient entertainment, with agreeable echoes of Forster, James, and perhaps Elizabeth Spencer’s The Light in the Piazza. Not Martin’s most original work, therefore, but one of her most accomplished. (First printing of 50,000)

Pub Date: July 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-375-40542-9
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2000


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