Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The City of Fallen Angels - John Berendt: A Review

Title: The City of Falling Angels
Author: John Berendt
Pages: 398
Date Finished: July 30, 2007
Rating: 3.75/5

Greetings from Taos, New Mexico (where I'm freezing my Texas butt off!!) But at least I've been getting some good reading done. It’s been so long since I've read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil that I can't really compare the two, but from my memory, I didn't like this one quite as much. Berendt travels to Vencie a few days after the opera house, The Fenice, mysteriously burns down.

After talking with a number of Venetians and getting a taste for the local flavor, Berendt decides to extend his stay (apparently for several years? It is not made clear how long). The main focus of the book is the burning of the Fenice - whether causes are negligence or arson, whether the Fenice will be renovated to the state it was before the fire, whether the politics will drive a spike between the moneymakers, the moneylenders, and those who just want the Fenice to be restored to its original splendor.

But while the story of the Fenice cannot seem to fill out a full-length book, Berendt uses up the rest of the text to tell the stories of the Venetians themselves; many of these stories are colorful and often-times related back to the Fenice, but sometimes the connections are rather weak. It seems as though Berendt searches out these colorful characters, and I wonder how indicative they really are of normal Venetians (such as the characters from MGGE are of Savannah). Regardless, many of the stories are interesting. I read the first quarter to Hubby on the way up here, but he became disinterested because of the story moving here and there and everywhere. The thread about the Fenice was especially confusing perhaps because the story only came up occasionally; I much preferred the sections where Berendt discussed the Venetians themselves rather than the political events surrounding the Fenice.

Among the cast of characters - Ezra Pound and his long-time lover Olga Rudge, who has unknowingly been duped into "giving away" all of her letters to Pound to a sketchy foundation; the Curtises, one of the first American expatriate families to live in Venice who sadly have to sell off a portion of their Palace on the Grand Canal; the Rat Man of Treviso who has found a successful recipe for rat poison and many many more. I enjoyed reading all of these people's stories, and Berendt is at times an enchanting storyteller, but there just wasn’t as much cohesiveness as I would have liked. I would recommend this book to people who like history – especially social history as this book is more about character study than anything else.

4 comments:

soleil said...

there really isn't a lot of overlap in paris france but there is in Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. especially of Picasso. they were like best friends.
and is the borderlands a book of poetry? it sounds familiar. if so, then i have read it. if not, well i read a book of poetry based on the murders that were in spanish but translated in english on the opposite page. very moving poetry too i might add.

Trish said...

Soleil - It does have poetry in it, but I believe there is also prose as well. I'm moving, and since I've already read it its packed away or I'd look it up. And Anzaldua talks a lot about the Mexican mythology as well as some of the stuff going on down in the border. A mixture of everything really...

Mailyn said...

New Mexico? It's cold there? I'm jealous. It feels like 100 degrees down here. LOL.

Trish said...

Mailyn - Depends on where you are. In the desert it is HOT. But we were up in the mountains, so we had rain every afternoon and it was really cool (40s/50s) during the night. But I ended up getting sunburned anyway. Now we're back in the sweltering heat of Texas...it was over 100 yesterday.