Summary: Margot Harrington's memoir about her discovery in Florence of a priceless masterwork of Renaissance erotica--and the misguided love affair it inspired--is now, 25 years later, being made into a movie. Margot, with the help of her lover, Woody, writes a script that she thinks will validate her life. Of course their script is not used, but never mind--happy endings are the best endings for movies, as Margot eventually comes to see. At the former convent in Florence where "The Sixteen Pleasures"--now called "The Italian Lover,"--is being filmed, Margot enters into a drama she never imagined, where her ideas of home, love, art, and aging collide with the imperatives of commerce and the unknowability of other cultures and other people. -- Back Bay Books
THE ITALIAN LOVER by Robert Hellenga before my giveaway ends next week, so I kind of scooted it up to the top of my TBR pile. As many of you know, I have been loving all things Italian lately, especially books, so I was very anxious to read it. I'm not really sure what I was expecting (yes, I did read the book summary) but I was surprised that the entire story took place in current day (or at least the 1990s.) For some reason, the cover of the book led me to think that it would have more historical references.
As I was reading the first few chapters in this book, I felt a little deja vu. The character of Woody (Margot's love interest) and his story sounded so familiar. I immediately put THE ITALIAN LOVER down and started researching Mr. Hellenga's past novels. There was a good reason that I remembered Woody -- I had read THE FALL OF THE SPARROW quite a few years ago. This novel told the story of Woody and how his life was changed as a result of losing his daughter in a bombing. I also found out that Margot's story about discovering a priceless book and her love affair was an earlier Hellenga novel too entitled THE SIXTEEN PLEASURES. Unfortunately I hadn't read Margot's story, but I definitely think THE ITALIAN LOVER can be appreciated (and enjoyed) without having read either of those books.
THE ITALIAN LOVER told the story of six people who were brought together for the filming of Margot's memoir titled The Sixteen Pleasures. Once again, I loved reading about the cities in Italy (I'm really going to have to visit there someday.) Mr. Hellenga's descriptions definitely made me feel like I was seeing Italy through his eyes. What I also enjoyed was how the various characters perceived Italy. Most appreciated the beauty and culture, but Italy had a different affect on each of them -- sometimes even changing their entire personality. It was also very interesting how Woody perceived Italy. His Italy wasn't all about aesthetics, but rather he saw an ugly side. Italy was where his daughter died and his entire life drastically changed.
Another thing about this novel that I found interesting was the storyline surrounding the making of the movie. I am not a big movie fan, but I'm fascinated by the entire process of turning a book into a movie. I felt like the movie-making business scenes sounded very realistic. It's clear that Mr. Hellenga conducted not only a ton of research about Italy in general, but he also really studied the film-making industry.
I think Mr. Hellenga did a wonderful job of developing all six characters. These characters were very human and complex (and, of course, each had their fair share of flaws.) All of the characters changed throughout the course of this novel, some more so than others; and I enjoyed seeing them discover things about themselves. I also appreciated seeing Italy's effect on each of the characters as well as their relationships with each other and how these things changed each of their lives.
I think many reading groups would enjoy THE ITALIAN LOVER. There are definitely a lot of themes to discuss such as love, family, marriage, religion, friendship, honesty, etc. This novel was an interesting story in its own right, but I think it was really a character driven book. I was pleasantly surprised with how "deep" the novel was, and I find myself still thinking about the characters. There is a reading guide available, and I think these questions are terrific and will provide a lot of interesting discussion.
If THE ITALIAN LOVER sounds like a novel that you'd like to read, make sure you sign up for my five book giveaway. Good luck!