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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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.