I Give It to You by Valerie Martin review – an Italian summer | The Guardian

A novel of philosophical and creative inquiry, cleverly plotted and packed with great charactersWhen Jan Vidor, the narrator of Valerie Martin’s immensely satisfying new novel, arrives at the grand Villa Chiara near Siena in the summer of 1983, she knows nothing of its history, and little of its aristocratic owners: she is looking for a quiet place to research a new book she is planning, to be set in the era of Mussolini, and has no intention of being sidetracked by curiosity. But that, as any writer who has visited Italy on a deadline could have told her, is easier said than done.A novelist and an academic at an American university, Jan is thus far a safe bet as avatar for the prizewinning Martin herself – though this assumption, as so many in this beautifully fractal novel, is challenged and unpicked as the narrative progresses. Jan knows only the name of a fellow academic, the glamorous fiftysomething Beatrice Salviati, from whom she is renting the Villa Chiara’s orangery. From her terrace in the limonaia, with “access to scenes no one else saw”, Jan is both on the edge of things and screened from view: the ideal novelist’s vantage point. She cannot stop herself from making notes, not on Mussolini but on her setting: the meals, the landscape, “the sweet sound of doves cooing”, the great house she overlooks and most importantly the comings, goings and secretive doings of the Salviati family. Continue reading…

A novel of philosophical and creative inquiry, cleverly plotted and packed with great characters

When Jan Vidor, the narrator of Valerie Martin’s immensely satisfying new novel, arrives at the grand Villa Chiara near Siena in the summer of 1983, she knows nothing of its history, and little of its aristocratic owners: she is looking for a quiet place to research a new book she is planning, to be set in the era of Mussolini, and has no intention of being sidetracked by curiosity. But that, as any writer who has visited Italy on a deadline could have told her, is easier said than done.

A novelist and an academic at an American university, Jan is thus far a safe bet as avatar for the prizewinning Martin herself – though this assumption, as so many in this beautifully fractal novel, is challenged and unpicked as the narrative progresses. Jan knows only the name of a fellow academic, the glamorous fiftysomething Beatrice Salviati, from whom she is renting the Villa Chiara’s orangery. From her terrace in the limonaia, with “access to scenes no one else saw”, Jan is both on the edge of things and screened from view: the ideal novelist’s vantage point. She cannot stop herself from making notes, not on Mussolini but on her setting: the meals, the landscape, “the sweet sound of doves cooing”, the great house she overlooks and most importantly the comings, goings and secretive doings of the Salviati family.

Continue reading…


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