Reading the World: Italy

Our next stop is Italy; hopefully it will fill you with springtime joy to visit the beautiful landscapes and well-paced way of life which are evoked in the following books.

1. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (2003)
‘Meggie loves books. So does her father, Mo, a bookbinder, although he has never read aloud to her since her mother mysteriously disappeared. They live quietly until the night a stranger knocks at their door. He has come with a warning that forces Mo to reveal an extraordinary secret – a storytelling secret that will change their lives for ever.’

2. Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare (c. 1588-1593) 9780199536108
‘Titus Andronicus was the young Shakespeare’s audacious, sporadically brilliant experiment in sensational tragedy. Its horrors are notorious, but its powerful poetry of grief is the work of a true tragic poet.’

3. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim (1922)
‘A discreet advertisement in ‘The Times’, addressed to ‘Those who Apppreciate Wisteria and Sunshine…’ is the impetus for a revelatory month for four very different women. High above the bay on the Italian Riviera stands San Salvatore, a mediaeval castle. Beckoned to this haven are Mrs. Wilkins, Mrs Arbuthnot, Mrs Fisher and Lady Caroline Dester, each quietly craving a respite. Lulled by the Mediterranean spirit, they gradually shed their skins and discover a harmony each of them has longed for but never known. First published in 1922 and reminscient of ‘Elizabeth and her German Garden’, this delightful novel is imbued with the descriptive power and light-hearted irreverence for which Elizabeth von Arnin is renowned.’

4. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann 9780486287140
‘”Death in Venice, ” tells about a ruinous quest for love and beauty amid degenerating splendor. Gustav von Aschenbach, a successful but lonely author, travels to the Queen of the Adriatic in search of an elusive spiritual fulfillment that turns into his erotic doom. Spellbound by a beautiful Polish boy, he finds himself fettered to this hypnotic city of sun-drenched sensuality and eerie physical decay as it gradually succumbs to a secret epidemic.’

5. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764)
”Look, my lord! See heaven itself declares against your impious intentions!’ The Castle of Otranto (1764) is the first supernatural English novel and one of the most influential works of Gothic fiction. It inaugurated a literary genre that will be forever associated with the effects that Walpole pioneered. Professing to be a translation of a mysterious Italian tale from the darkest Middle Ages, the novel tells of Manfred, prince of Otranto, whose fear of an ancient prophecy sets him on a course of destruction. After the grotesque death of his only son, Conrad, on his wedding day, Manfred determines to marry the bride-to-be. The virgin Isabella flees through a castle riddled with secret passages. Chilling coincidences, ghostly visitations, arcane revelations, and violent combat combine in a heady mix that terrified the novel’s first readers.’

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Sunday Snapshot: Plays

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Williams portrays relationships, even the most complicated, in a masterful manner. I love the way in which he writes. His characterisation is second to none, and he gives one so much to admire in each scene, each act. The characters were all fundamentally troubled souls, each imperfect in his or her own way, but they worked so well as a cast, and Blanche Du Bois is eternally endearing. Williams’ dialogue is pitch perfect. An absolutely marvellous, perceptive, strong and unforgettable play, and one which I’m now longing to see performed.

Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas
I have rather a mixed bag of comments here. The prose of the narrators is absolutely gorgeous. The descriptions throughout drip with opulent words, and Thomas creates imagery so deftly. The language which they use is so rich. I love the way in which the scene is set. The use of the narrators and how they hand over the speech to one another is rather clever, and I feel that this would be stunning on the stage. You can tell throughout that words are Thomas’ forte. I love the poetic detail which creeps in. The use of long and short sentences was balanced perfectly, and I liked the way in which the little vignettes and asides were sewn together, and the separate stories which were woven through. I also loved the way in which the audience was addressed personally, as though we were a character. I liked the narration far more than the conversations between characters. They often felt dull and flat in comparison. This is the main issue I had with the play. It seemed imbalanced in consequence, and inconsistent too.

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
I’m over halfway through my 2013 Shakespeare challenge, a fact which at once makes me both sad and jubilant. One of my favourite elements of his plays is the notion of disguise and mistaken identities. Much Ado About Nothing, happily, has both. It is not my favourite Shakespearean work, and the characters will not stay with me in the same way as Titania and Titus Andronicus, for example, but I must admit that I cheered inwardly when I realised that some of the prose here has been used in Mumford & Sons’ lyrics. Much Ado About Nothing is definitely a great play on the whole, and I imagine that it would transfer well to the stage.

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
There are such fun elements to this story. It’s not one which I was overly familiar with before, but I’m so glad I’ve read it! I must say that my Italian isn’t quite good enough to be able to translate a lot of the phrases, but I got the definite jist of it as the play progressed. Some of the prose was incredibly amusing, and other parts were just beautiful. It’s a play which I’d love to see performed.

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
I love the way in which all of Shakespeare’s plays have such a wealth of settings. This takes place in the late Roman Empire, and the settings and characters are crafted beautifully. This play shocked audiences right up to the Second World War for its grotesque storylines, but it is so good! I loved the story, prose and rhythm, and this definitely ranks as one of my favourite Shakespeare plays to date.