Wednesday, February 26, 2014


This is one of the few books where I think the author was justified in telling the story non-sequentially.  The plot bounces back and forth between present-day California and the Ligurian Coast of Italy in 1962.  In the earlier time slice, Pasquale owns a small hotel in a village called Porto Vergogna (port of shame)—not to be confused with Portovenere in the famed Cinque Terre.  Suddenly one day a beautiful young actress, Dee Moray, arrives, stealing Pasquale's heart.  Dee has a small part in the movie Cleopatra, and Pasquale feels that she is out of his league, romantically speaking, so that their connection is more wistful than passionate.  Plus, Pasquale has obligations of his own to fulfill.  Fast forward to the present, and a young woman named Claire is struggling with career decisions and love-life decisions, when a young man named Shane comes into the studio where she works to pitch a movie idea.  He has to take a backseat, though, to Pasquale, now an old man, who has come to try to reconnect with Dee Moray.  If this all sounds a little too saccharine, then consider the two other characters who inadvertently orchestrate the plot.  Michael Deane is a self-absorbed Hollywood bigshot who serves as the publicity chief for Cleopatra and ousts Dee from the movie with a cruel lie of epic proportions.  Richard Burton, larger than life, is the cad we expect him to be, stealing Dee's heart, even as he woos Elizabeth Taylor away from Eddie Fisher.  Burton's role in this novel is little more than a cameo, but his impact on the lives of the other characters is immeasurable.  I loved the idea of this novel more than the novel itself.  It was just a little too dreamy for my tastes, with characters that I didn't bond with closely enough, and a plot that didn't grab my attention quite tightly enough.  The calmness that pervades this book makes it a good one to relax with.  Even the book's moments of strife, such as when Dee's son has to live penniless on the streets of Edinburgh, never seem too scary, as I just assumed everything would turn out OK in the end.

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