Friday, September 12, 2008

Donna Leon's The Girl of His Dreams

It's been a hectic two weeks, adjusting to the change-of-pace of the new term after the langourous pleasures of summer. I've been memorizing students' names, writing up assignments and sending them off to the printshop, getting ahead on my reading and re-reading, and, of course, performing my teaching persona twelve active, front-of-the-class hours each week.

So I think I deserve some escape reading, no? Anticipating this very moment, my wonderful, wise, obviously prescient neighbour, Carol Matthews (whose books I've written about here) brought over a copy of Donna Leon's The Girl of His Dreams several weeks ago. Do you know the Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries, set in Venice? I remembering being lent one by a colleague a few summers ago; I know I read and enjoyed it, and I can't understand why I didn't follow up by working my way through the backlist. I've only got two chapters into this latest and already I'm appreciating the complexity of character, the richness of the family life depicted, and the evocative vibrancy of the setting. We're currently leaning towards returning to Lisbon next spring after our annual visit to Paris, but I know this book's going to make me consider a trip to Italy. Meanwhile, of course, it's giving me that very trip, at least virtually.

So far, there's not much to tell you about the mystery beyond that, but I wanted to share a passage that amused me by recalling so many of mine and Carol's conversations:
Walking towards the Rialto, Brunetti is "assaulted by the smell of chemicals and dyes" and laments the disappearance of the fruit stall he had formerly frequented. As he begins to wonder how long it would be before Venetians would have to join the rest of the world in buying supermarket fruit, "the memory of Paola's voice overrode his musings, and he heard her telling him that if she wanted to listen to old women complain about how good things had been in the old days and how the whole world was falling apart, she'd go and sit in the doctor's waiting room for an hour some morning: she did not want to have to listen to it from him, in her own home." As he continues on his way, stopping to pick up a caffé and brioche, he realizes "that the memory of Paola's complaint -- a complaint about his complaints -- had cheered him."

Carol and I regularly traverse this territory, sharing concerns about the environment, social injustice, the loss of cultural and/or architectural landmarks, changes in the marketplace, deteriorating support for artists, the litany goes on and on. But we just as often catch ourselves (or each other), and give ourselves a scolding, Paola-style. Recognizing the two of us in a book that Carol's loaned me was one of my morning's delights. I had a wonderful run in the autumn sunshine, a phone call with a daughter grateful for my advice, and I've promised myself another hour or two of indulgent, satisfying, escape reading. You? Any reading joys this weekend?


  1. Frances, what a delight to check out your new blog and find my books touted -- not to mention my wisdom! Thank you so much. Glad you like the Donna Leon, which was courtesy of Barnwell & Stanley. I too recognized themes of our conversations. The prosecco and pasta also seem familiar...

    Now I am going to turn to your old postings to read about your Paris trip and become inspired.
    Great stuff here. I do really admire the eclectic stack of books you have at your bedside!

    Thanks again. I will check in regularly.
    p.s. Liked your comments on Bill Gaston's book, too.

  2. Thanks, Carol, and thanks again for the book -- I've spent some time with it this weekend and it's making me hungry for that food-centred lifestyle. Slow food indeed!
    Eclectic's one word for my book stack. Or idiosyncratic. Or just a strange mix. I like it, though.
    As for the Gaston, it deserves more time than I gave it in review. I was very glad to finally read something by him.
    Now I'm off to enjoy a glass of prosecco!