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Italian Fever Hardcover – June 22, 1999

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (June 22, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375405429
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375405426
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,243,608 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Italian Fever is a strange soufflé--half mystery and half squib on American innocence and European experience. In Brooklyn, Lucy Stark, an author's assistant who has "come to prefer liberty to passion," despairs over her boss's latest manuscript. "DV's books were always awful, but what made this one worse than the others was the introduction of a new element, which was bound to boost sales: There was a ghost in the villa. DV had gone gothic." But then the phone rings, and she learns that DV will scribe no more, having died under strange circumstances in Ugolino. At least his demise will afford Lucy a vacation of sorts--a stay in Tuscany so that she can identify his body, sort through his effects, and perhaps divine the cause of his death.

Of course, from the moment her plane lands, she suffers from cultural disorientation, and worse. Why, exactly, is her handsome if humorless chauffeur, Massimo, so solicitous? Why is DV's villa in fact a farmhouse? And are its proprietors, the Cinis, conspiring to keep her from the truth? Then there are Lucy's Nancy Drew-like discoveries--a terrifying drawing of DV and a mysterious love letter. And is the scratching at the walls a sign from DV's ghost or something more quotidian? All in all, our heroine can't sort out hallucination from Italian provocation, which is all too much for someone who has long prided herself on her clear sight.

Though Valerie Martin's seventh novel has its share of stomach-clenching moments, it is most successful in its many comic scenes (not something this talented author has hitherto been known for). Whether Lucy is trying to break through Massimo's defenses or get to the bottom of the Cinis' behavior, she is usually miles from the truth. Meanwhile, Martin offers up a host of memorable minor figures, from DV's ultrasophisticated New York publisher to the quail-consuming, epigram-spouting Antonio Cini, who gets most of the good lines. When Lucy tells him that she's forever in Massimo's debt, he languidly responds: "Forever, that must be a tiresome sensation." Though Italian Fever is never in the least tiresome, its biggest mystery is how Martin--who has written so strikingly of possession in The Great Divorce--is here far stronger on satire than the supernatural. --Kerry Fried

From Publishers Weekly

The reality-distorting fever that afflicts the i-dotting, t-crossing Lucy StarkAa plainish Brooklyn woman who finds herself embroiled in the creepy intrigues of the aristocratic Cini familyAenvelops her mere days after she arrives in northern Italy, and barely breaks before this upmarket gothic novel comes to closure. Lucy's delirium makes her likely to misinterpret all the things that go bump in the night, and yet when the lights come on at the novel's end, nearly all the ghouls shrink into shadows. In Tuscany on rather strange businessAher employer, a popular and formulaic fiction writer named DV, has drunkenly met his death by falling down a well on the Cini propertyALucy becomes suspicious of the Cinis' byzantine ways and their dodginess on the subject of the American painter Catherine Bultman, whom Lucy assumed had been living as DV's lover in the house he rented on the Cini grounds. With her temperature steadily rising, Lucy rifles through DV's belongings and finds an amorous letter to Catherine, written in Italian and signed Antonio. Thinking she has uncovered a valuable clueAAntonio is the name of the seedy scion of the Cini lineALucy begins to make more pointed inquiries about Catherine's whereabouts and the circumstances of her departure. She is waylaid in her investigation by her illness, however, and by the equally damaging and consuming affair she begins with the married Roman hunk named Massimo who nurses her back to health. Besides being a born-again passionate, Lucy is an art enthusiast; Martin's knowledge of iconography and hagiography adds an intellectual dimension to the romantic plot. Martin also describes the food in Tuscany and Rome luxuriouslyAif sometimes with a hungry street urchin's obsessive care. With a few ghosts, several acts of love and numerous jibes at self-indulgent writers of the DV school, the sophisticated romantic adventure is rendered with stylish flair. Martin controls the narrative momentum smoothly and recounts her tale with occasional wryness and engaging enthusiasm. 50,000 first printing.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Don't waste your time or believe any of the good press about this one.
J. Sauer
The characters where bland and the story line seemed to be leading to an exciting ended which turned out to be no big deal.
Her main posture is one of feeling superior, but for no apparent reason.
John Sollami

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Leonard P. Bazelak on March 31, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I have just completed "Italian Fever" by Valerie Martin and enjoyed it tremendously. Lucy Stark goes to Italy to tidy up the affairs of a minor writer who died in an accident. While there she meets some intriguing characters, has an affair, learns more about the kind of person she really is, and is memsmerized by the beauty of Italy and the art of its famous painters and sculptors. Her descriptions are portrayed in succinct yet beautiful prose which engrosses the reader's attention. I especially loved her reaction and description of Piero della Francesca's fresco, The Resurection, which she comments on to her Italian escort while on a business trip. This novel has romance, self-revelation, mystery, ghosts, and the flavor of Italy all rolled into one. I heartily recommend it to any reader of quality fiction.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 4, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I don't know which I enjoyed more: Martin's prose or being tranported back to Italy, my favorite place on earth. No one has written the definitive romance about this country, and I hope no one does because the literary possibilities are endless. The whole point of reading pleasure is to be able to identify with the character/story/setting which this novel did for me so beautifully. While vacationing in Tuscany I succumbed to the flu...I had an affair with a married man who lived in Rome with his Australian wife, and I remember how frustrating it is to listen to the Italians speak their rapid-fire language and only being able to catch a word here or there. I loved it that Lucy and Antonio "discovered" each other and that she was smart enough to leave. I only hope that Ms. Martin will find it necessary to set her next novel in Venice.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Pretty Sinister on August 27, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I cannot dismiss it altogether. What I picked up from the book is Martin's satiric writing and that Lucy Stark is similar to the heroine in Austen's "Northanger Abbey" who having read one too many Gothic novels lets her romantic imagination run away with her. Similarly, Lucy is somewhat of a fool (not a cliche of a woman in her 30s as one reviewer here wrote. What exactly is that anyway?) who allows herself to be taken in by all her cliche notions of Italy and Italian men. How can anyone take seriously her head-over-heels, schoolgirl infatuation with Massimo? She never once thinks about the consequences of her adulterous affair although she is fully aware of his wife and children. And she quickly becomes impatient and jealous when she thinks he is also carrying on with the beguiling artist Catherine. The only truly unfortunate element of this story is its flimsy, pseudo-gothic, mystery story element. What began as a teasing story of foul play and an estate haunted by the ghost of murdered WWII Italian partisan quickly fizzles and is forgotten among the trappings of Martin's subtle send-up of all things Harlequinesque. The sequence with Lucy's horrendously detailed food poisoning complete with hallucinations and a bit later the section where she locks herself out of the farmhouse and has to seek shelter in a brewing windy storm are perfect examples of what could have made for a true modern day Gothic novel. So many writers today haven't a clue what constitutes a Gothic novel in its classic from. One need only look at the first ten chapters of "Italian Fever" for a primer in excellent use of classic Gothic mood, description and setting. I only wish there were more throughout the entire novel.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Roxane Fletcher on August 24, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Wow, I am so surprised to read the vituperative reviews about this novel--I admired it on many levels. The writing was exceptionally fluent without in the least straying into the melodramatic, and Martin's blending of genres was nimbly handled. I thought the character portrayals were remarkably subtle and realistically complex. The opening passage (the Prologue) is so beautifully written that I wanted to read it over several times just for the rhythmic pleasure. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire novel and was so pleased to find it, as I have enjoyed some of her earlier novels but have had trouble finding all of them. If you are a "literary reader," I would think you would love this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By C. Miller on February 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
Well...reviewers for Amazon seemed to love or hate this novel, for the most part. I feel rather indifferent about it. Truthfully, I would probably never have finished it if I had actual work to do at my job!
Lucy Stark is a writer's assistant whose employer, writing abroad, suddenly turns up dead. She is left the task of putting his affairs in order and looking for the rest of a manuscript he has been working on. What starts out as a possible murder mystery quickly devolves into simply a diary of an American's time spent in Italy, replete with art appreciation, affairs and lots of cappucino consumption.
This novel didn't seem to follow its initial intentions or promises, although when the end finally comes, everything is wrapped up to some satisfaction. Had the book simply been to detail an American's experience abroad and what she learned about herself along the way, I would have understood how to read it. As it is, it seems the author did a little of this, a little of that, but I cannot complain about the quality of the language and the flow of the writing. My main feeling is that this book did not AFFECT me, the way I feel a good novel should. I probably won't think about it again.
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