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The Last Supper: A Summer in Italy Hardcover – May 26, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (May 26, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374184038
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374184032
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,943,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

English novelist Cusk (Arlington Park) delivers a relatively humorless account of traveling with her husband and two children over three warm months in Italy, from Tuscany to Naples and Rome. She was in search of beauty, because she felt afflicted by England's bland obtuseness nurtured by a cold climate and unappetizing food, and felt Italy's pull through the characters in Tintoretto's painting The Last Supper. Driving through Italy, the family (her husband is mentioned only once; thereafter he is only part of the collective we) stayed longest in Arezzo, a pastoral spot in eastern Tuscany, where Cusk found herself on a trail named after the 15th-century painter Piero della Francesca; she felt herself on the edge of an ocean of knowledge that required complete immersion. Armed with Vasari's Lives of the Artists, she trekked to find these early Renaissance works of art, many reproduced here (as well as the family's own picturesque snapshots) and records her sympathetic impressions; of Cimabue's tremendously moving portrait of St. Francis, she writes what could also be the artist's visionary declaration: I am nothing. I am everything. Her observations of the ex-pat community and foreign tourists are critical and grumpy, and the last leg, through Pompeii and Rome, feels anticlimactic. (June)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Without doubt, Rachel Cusk is a talented writer and one of the sharpest commentators working in fiction today. In the tradition of Frances Mayes, Peter Mayle, E. M. Forster, and D. H. Lawrence -- writers enchanted by the siren call of Italy -- Cusk records her observations in The Last Supper. The book works best in the travelogue passages, when the author dissects details with surgical precision. Many sections, though, devolve into a less-coherent analysis of Cusk's own plight, a terminal case of ennui amid "the endlessly repeating blankness" of life in Bristol. Her family is conspicuously anonymous, and the author takes a particularly jaundiced view of the tourists and expats she sees along the way, an irony not lost on many of the book's critics.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By American Traveler on September 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover
"The Last Supper" is a bizarre little book illustrating that almost any literate person with a travel experience can become published. What was most striking about the book was the puzzling undercurrent of disdain and hostility that the author, Rachel Cusk, expressed toward so much of what she saw and who she met during a 3-month sojourn in Italy with her husband and two children. I say this from a first-hand perspective because in four trips to Italy I've personally and recently visited many of the venues she describes (Rome, Florence, Assisi, Naples). For example, she describes the face of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi as "blank and pagan-looking, frightening in its enormity . . ." Its "long, forbidding colonnaded walkway extends from its side, like the huge dark wing of a bird of prey." All that remains of St. Francis himself, she adds, "are the bones that lie in the basilica's cold heart." As she descends from the upper basilica, "The shushing and the hostile stares come thick and fast through the gloom, for it is in the lower church that the bones lie, and the closer we get to them the more vigorously art is derided. I begin to feel a little outraged. It is they who seem heretical to me, these spiritual bureaucrats with their rules and regulations, their punitive demeanor and their threats of expulsion." Cusk went to a Catholic convent school. Maybe that explains the prism through which she looks at things, but I wouldn't know.

Her dismissive views extend to the secular, as well. She describes the throngs of tourists at Pompeii as "these herds who drive around in coaches, looking numbly down on the world. They are not art lovers. They aren't even really tourists. They are voyeurs.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Nancy Buescher on March 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The art information was the only good part of this book. The Mother in this book (the author) was toooooo critical of everyone and every thing. I don't have any trouble finding people to gripe, I don't need to read a whole book of gripes, or stinging opinions.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Rachel McElhany VINE VOICE on August 8, 2010
Format: Paperback
The Last Supper is a memoir by Rachel Cusk of a summer spent in Italy with her husband and two children. I could not connect with the author in this book at all. She shares no background information or any personal information about her or her family and writes in a very detached, dreamy style. She never even refers to her daughters by name, just "the children". In reading a memoir, I expect to be able to form some kind of connection with the author and I felt none with Rachel.

Her metaphors are very creative but she spends paragraphs describing the minutest things in very descriptive, melodramatic detail and never really gets to the point. And that's what I wondered when I finally made it to the end, "What was the point?"
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Me Critique? on July 4, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The first three words in the title might have told me something about Ms.Cusk but I was unprepared for her unhappiness with the values of others. You might share her biases--even find them reinforcing--but after 10 pages you may also tire of her metaphors, analogies and other descriptive excesses. I bought it to read on travel to Tuscany but discarded it by the time we reached Heathrow. We were on our way to a magical family celebration--wish she might have had a more positive life and story to tell. (I read Russell Baker's "Growing Up" on the same trip--a beautiful contrast to Ms Cusk's unhappy memoir.)
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