Rococo (by Adriana Trigiani)

I first came across the name of Adriana Trigiani when Amazon recommended some of her books to me. So when I spotted a few of them inexpensively on a church bookstall nearly three years ago, it was an easy decision to buy them. I read one of them - Lucia, Lucia - soon afterwards, but the others have sat on my to-be-read shelf considerably longer than I had realised.

However, I finally picked up ‘Rococo’ a few days ago, and have read it in a couple of days. It’s rather a different story, set in 1970. It’s told in the first person by an almost-40-year-old Italian American called Bartolomeo, known as B to his friends and family. B is an interior designer, and he’s good. He has an eye for colour, and for matching homes with their owners, and he’s much in demand.

His dream for many years has been to redesign the Catholic church which he has belonged to, and loved, since he was a small child. So when the priest decides to employ an outside company, B is devastated, and deeply hurt. However, nobody really appreciates the power of the village, and the people who want one of their own to renovate their church. So eventually he gets the job…

The interesting part of the story, to me, was B’s relationship with his extended family. I found him a likeable person, dedicated to his job, happy to be a bachelor with occasional women for company. I’m not sure how well the author got inside the male psyche, but that didn’t matter too much; B tells the story well, with a light touch, and I liked seeing his role as father-figure to his nephews, particularly the one named after him, and best friend to his emotional sister Toot.

I wondered where the story was going at first, but soon realised that there isn’t one; the novel is a work of art, painting a picture of family and church life in a small village, with people coming and going, with their different personalities and dreams and heartbreaks. I found it almost impossible to keep track of who was whom, and didn’t feel particularly attached to anyone, but then I know almost nothing about Italians living in the US. From that point of view, it was an interesting read.

The blurb on the back calls this book a ‘comic masterpiece’, so I tried to read it as a light-hearted book. The only parts that seemed amusing were Toot’s regular malapropisms, but as B keeps correcting her, they didn’t have the humour value that they might otherwise have done so. Most of the cast are caricatured, I assume - but maybe not. I was mildly amused, too, at some recipes with vast quantities of ingredients, listed as serving 48; I very much doubt if they are realistic.

The least appealing part of the book is the regular descriptions of people’s houses which B has decorated; he goes into great deal about colour schemes and designs, most of which went right over my head and didn’t interest me in the slightest.

B travels to various European cities in the course of the novel, including London, but none of them felt particularly real or relevant. It’s a minor irritation, but a Brit would not have used the word ‘momentarily’ in the American sense of ‘in a moment’. I doubt if even an American would have done so in 1970.

Still, it makes pleasant enough reading; no violence or horror, no bad language, and while there are a great many intimate liaisons, thankfully they take place off stage or without any detailed descriptions.

Review copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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