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Italian Fever: A Novel Paperback – May 9, 2000

2.7 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 259 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Vintage Contemporaries ed edition (May 9, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375705228
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375705229
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,347,465 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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Format: Paperback
I found this novel at the back of the shelf where it had been gathering dust for a decade; I dusted it off, sat down to read, and actually enjoyed it. "Italian Fever" certainly held my interest, even though, as other critics have mentioned, the book went off in surprising tangents, from mystery, to Italian gothic, to romance, adventure (with a bit of art history), to ghost story. I rather liked the central character, Lucy, who displayed a sense of humour, even though I thought she had rotten taste in men. I nevertheless enjoyed vicariously tooting around the Tuscan countryside for a few hours, and looking into the windows of the galleries on the Via Margutta in Rome. I really didn't mind the author's changes in narrative direction; they kept me reading.

The author's scattering of Italian phrases throughout put me in the mood for the story, and as for Lucy's bewilderment and poor choices, I know what a culture shock Italy, with its chaotic magnificence, can be for someone who doesn't speak the language (My daughter was in a perpetual state of stunned consternation on her first visit: "Why is our taxi making a right turn, across traffic, from the center lane?" "What do you mean they've called a transportation strike for tomorrow?" "Mother, this Venetian hotel room is unacceptable!"). The only quibble I had with the book--besides Lucy's passion for Massimo--a not-fully-evolved Neanderthal, if there ever was one--was the author's apparent unfamiliarity with the strict order of Italian menus, whether in elegant villas or in intimate Roman trattorias.
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