Happy Ending by Francesca Duranti
this translation by Annapaola Cancogni 1991
Again, a project with writer and blog friend Christine Poulson (her blog is over at Christine Poulson: A Reading Life): sometimes we do lists, and sometimes we read the same book (previously: Tony & Susan by Austin Wright, and Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins). We are publishing our reviews on the same day –
I’d never heard of book or author when Chrissie suggested this one: now I am surprised, as it must be the kind of book that is much recommended among friends, the kind of book I read a lot of.
It’s a fairy-tale, and quite schematic, and almost (but not quite) predictable - but still it is enchanting, beautifully written, and completely satisfying.
We are in Tuscany, in the hills outside Lucca: one family owns three neighbouring grand houses, while opposite lives a single man, one of the narrators of the book. All have known each for years – there are issues, and doomed loves, and small feuds. It is summer, and the air is warm and still and silent, and everyone would like a little more happiness.
Into this ruffled atmosphere comes a young man called Marco, a friend of the absent 20-something son of the big house. He’s a good-looking, attractive person: is he free-loading, is he over-confident and presumptuous? A cruel egoist? Or is he going to offer something to each person in turn – and will the results be good or bad? It’s a plotline we’ve seen before, and there is a clue in the title, but that didn’t stop me loving the book, and racing through it to see what would happen. And at the same time I wanted to slow down because the writing is so beautiful – and I think the translation must be a particularly good one.
It’s a voluptuous combination of massive symbolism and a careful formula, along with beautiful details and description, and wholly convincing emotions and very human behaviour.
There are so many sentences I would like to quote. I loved Leopold, mystified by his American wife (‘the cheerleader from Ohio’) and her complaints:
His wife’s grievances [about her life in Italy] had almost always seemed to him both perfectly justified and totally absurd. They were like her hair dryers, her blenders, her toasters, and all the other supermodern gadgets she had brought back from America: wonderful but inoperable on the Italian electric outlets, at least without the intermediary of a transformer.There’s the woman who is in appearance ‘somewhere between Botticelli’s Primavera and… Betsy Trotwood’ from David Copperfield.
These must surely resonate with anyone who has ever visited this part of Italy:
One single note, relentlessly whirred by the cicadas, fills the valley; the scents of the country have all surrendered to the overwhelming fragrance of cut grass; and its colours, radiating as far as the eye can see in that large circle of which the Arnolfina [house] is the centre, have all been blurred and unified by the opaque yellow characteristic of the summer sun around three in the afternoon.
The large plane tree, the majestic curve of the driveway, the rose garden, the maze of hedges, the swimming pool [and the houses].
The book slips down like a beautiful Lucca spritzer in the afternoon – it takes no time to read, but lingers in the memory, and manages to surprise the reader in some of the different ways in which the ending is achieved.
Right below my window, in the shady niche formed by the juncture of the tower and the facade of the house, the gardenias are in bloom.
My only sorrow was that I wasn’t on an elegant chair outside a Luccan villa while I read it in the sunshine…
The next best thing would be these photographs, which come from my favourite photographer: PerryPhotography. She lives in the area described by the book, and took the villa photos (from the top, 1,5, 6) specially for this entry, with the kind permission of the owners of the house, K & T Wynn. My thanks to them. She also took the photos of the city of Lucca (2,3, & 4). My thanks to her.
I hope Chrissie enjoyed Happy Ending as much as I did - here is her review - I am so grateful to her for suggesting it.