Whatever else I got from the City of Falling Angels by John Berendt the book has given me an overwhelming desire to visit Venice. I started reading this book when the topic we were studying in art appreciation was glass making. The first, last and a few chapters in between just happened to be about Archimede Seguso – a Venice glassmaker. With my new found knowledge this book already had me hooked.
I found however, like many non-fiction works that this narrative, for me, moved quickly for the first half with me looking forward to reading it at every available opportunity. It then faltered a little (as others have done at this point) and I don’t know why. The writing was good and the anecdotes equally as interesting, witty and compelling as those earlier in the book – my reading just took longer. Is it because, unlike fiction, there is just so much more to take in when a narrative is the truth or perhaps, unlike fiction there is not a true story arc. That said – I would still recommend this book.
This creative non-fiction narrative has the fire that burnt the Venice opera house, The Fenice, as a theme that holds the book together. It commences with the fire, moves through who may be to blame and the process undertaken for the rebuilding of the structure and finishes both with a court case deciding who is the guilty party and the opening night of the reconstructed building. It ties up a few loose ends.
Over the decade he spent researching this book and living in Venice he met many interesting characters living in some of the palaces that tourists will never get to enter. We are taken into the heart of Venice being told gossip from different perspectives. Each chapter could stand alone but is linked because of the opera house.
There were some wonderful lines of which I will only put a couple. On p297 -298 “Telling the truth is the most anti-conformist act I know.” He said “Hypocrisy is the constitutional basis and foundation of society.” A chapter (The Man who loved others) I loved was about a man Mario Stefani. On p.299 Mario Stefani said “loneliness is not being alone; it’s loving others to no avail.” On page 95 Count Loredan was describing his take on democracy. Well worth reading. He has written a book “Democracy: A Fraud?” which if it was written in English might make interesting reading.
All up – would I recommend this book? Yes I most certainly would. If it can make me want to visit a place that previously I had no real desire to visit means that his description of the place and the people were so good that they moved me. There was humour and pathos and lots of names I knew such as Peggy Guggenheim, Ezra Pound and his mistress Olga Rudge and many colourful Venetians.
I have not read his other book but I have heard many speak highly of it – Goodness in the Garden of Good and Evil. I understand that it is written in a similar vein to that narrative.