I’ve read my way to this latest blog post in rather a roundabout way. A few weeks ago now I read Nicky Pellegrino’s When In Rome and have been mulling it over whilst trying to find time to sit down and blog about it. In the meantime, I’ve busied my reading moments with a book that my Dad got out of the library for me, a collection of essays entitled A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Reasons Why We Can’t Stop Reading Jane Austen. I also decided to simultaneously re-read Pride and Prejudice in order to make my perspective on the essays more fresh. So, as you can see, although absent from the blog-o-sphere, I have been busily reading behind the scenes.
I enjoyed When In Rome, initially I presumed it was going to be the typical boy-meets-girl fodder of your average chick-lit novel, however, this turned out not to be the case. Set in 1950s Rome, the novel is much more about families and the tangled webs that bind them together. Our narrator is a young girl called Serafina who lives in a small apartment with her mother and two younger sisters. Serafina is very much at a crossroads in her life, at nineteen, she cannot continue playing ‘little-mama’ at home bringing up her younger sisters; but must decide upon her place within the world. Does she want to follow in her mother’s footsteps and dress up for an evening’s work, meeting wealthy men in hotel rooms across the city; if not, what course will she take? And that is really the crux of the story: the ‘coming-of-age’ of Serafina and, to a lesser extent, her sisters. It’s a well written story and the addition of famous Hollywood movie star and tenor, Mario Lanza, to Serafina’s world provides an interesting and effective contrast from the home and community she grew up in.
The story is by no means a happy-go-lucky romantic skip through the back-streets of Rome, ice-cream in hand. In contrast, Pellegrino’s tale is much more worldly-wise and realistic. It deals with issues of depression, disappointments and the disintegration of family, but somehow also manages to captivate and entertain you with its well-drawn characters and enticing imagery of the eternal city. It’s well worth the read and at just over 250 pages isn’t too big a commitment of time.
As I mentioned at the start of this post, since reading When In Rome I’ve moved onto a collection of essays about Jane Austen. My Dad, knowing my lifelong fascination with Austen’s writing, thought it might interest me…and it has. It’s been a while since I’ve read any literary criticism, getting more than my fill during my Uni days, but I am enjoying dipping my toe in the pool once again. I’ve often tried to steer away from literary commentary of Jane Austen, simply because I’ve worried that over-examination might kill the natural appreciation I have for her writing and subdue the unrelenting enjoyment I’ve so far experienced in reading and re-reading her books. The good thing about this particular collection, edited by Susannah Carson, is that it (so far, anyway) very much seems to be a celebration of Austen and her writing. Sure, amongst the essays there are points of criticism and realistic reflection upon the books’ merits, but the essays on the whole tend towards praise and appreciation.
I’m pleased with my decision to simultaneously re-read Pride and Prejudice as it has helped me to appreciate some of the finer points made in the essays and to reflect, perhaps more fairly, upon any criticisms made. I like that the book contains essays by a variety of different critics, from a variety of eras, as I think it helps to paint an enjoyable picture of how Jane Austen has been read and received throughout the years. It has also helped to add to my knowledge of the author herself and the things she experienced within her own lifetime.
I will continue and finish reading A Truth Universally Acknowledged and also move on to The Book Thief which has been recommended to me by several friends.