Italy’s dear, dilapidated Venice is the protagonist of Rivière’s sixth (Kate Caterina, 2002, etc.).
Rivière is a British expatriate who spent many years in Venice, and, clearly, he is still under its spell. The story here follows a small group of characters in the months after the 1918 armistice. There’s Hugh Thurne, senior British diplomat, who rents a palace on the Grand Canal, as well as his old friends Giacomo and Valentina Venier, patrician Venetians without the money to shore up their crumbling mansion, and their high-spirited teenaged children, Francesco and Gloria. The group will be joined by another old friend, Violet Mancroft, and her son Robert, about to graduate from Eton. Mother and son are making a shaky recovery from the war death of Violet’s husband Philip. With very little happening and eight different viewpoints, the narrative is nothing if not diffuse. It’s Hugh, estranged from his wife and sons in England, who gets the most attention. In Venice, he’s had a succession of mistresses, the latest being Emanuela, the perfect Tiepolo girl. Should he get serious about her and seek a divorce? Or are his deepest feelings reserved for the newly widowed Violet? The deceased Philip would be “amused” by their coming together; but none of this is resolved. The story consists of musings and velleities swaddled in an Anglo-Venetian languor, with death omnipresent: the recent death of Philip, the coming death of Giacomo, who will fail fast after a heart attack. As a counterpoint, we have the young love of Robert and Gloria, which begins with the balletic convergence of three gondolas on the Grand Canal. And the point of it all? “The past wasn’t dead . . . time was never irrevocably lost.” Venice, with its faded glories, is the perfect place to drive the point home.
Rivière seeks to capture the spirit and rhythms of Venice, as Woolf captured London in Mrs. Dalloway, but his prose just isn’t vital enough.