Tuesday 12 December 2017

Sparkling summer tale celebrates the power of loveJess Walter's book has multiple plot strands and is the hit of the summer, writes Melissa Katsoulis

Melissa Katsoulis

This is the one everyone here seems to be reading this summer – it's been in the UK and the Irish bestseller charts for weeks now. Which is not surprising, because it's the perfect summer read.

The sun-drenched Ligurian coast in north-west Italy, 1962. Speedboats, sunglasses and cigarettes. Burton and Taylor are filming nearby and in one down-at-heel fishing village a tanned young man is about to lose his heart.

The man is Pasquale Tursi and he is standing knee-deep in the waters of the bay when a boat containing a beautiful American actress putters up to the jetty. She is Dee Moray, fresh from the film set of Cleopatra and an unwise entanglement with the film's male lead. She is also, she has just discovered, terminally ill.

Bemused as to why she should choose this unglamorous corner of the Cinque Terre for a break, Pasquale nevertheless welcomes her into his family's pensione and cares for her as best he can, trying to remain professional while something extraordinary is happening in his heart.

Fast forward half a century to contemporary LA. Claire Silver, assistant to one of Hollywood's biggest producers, listens to endless silly pitches for zombie-cannibal-cowboy epics. She is at the end of her tether with the nonsense that passes for cinematic art these days.

Then late one Friday afternoon in walk two men: an aged Italian called Pasquale and Shane, a hipster with tattoos and a movie to pitch. Within a few hours life has changed for them all.

For Pasquale, it took a lifetime to work up the courage to find out how the story ended for Dee, who left his village as unexpectedly as she arrived. But it only takes an instant for Claire's boss to crumble at the mere mention of Dee and vow to get to the bottom of a decades-old mystery.

If all this sounds a bit like the irresistibly unputdownable schmaltz of The Notebook, it isn't. For one thing, there are about 97 other plot strands, supporting characters and excerpts from imaginary film scripts, ranging from homelessness in Edinburgh to community theatre in Idaho.

Not quite as literary as it would like to be – especially with grand faux pas such as the lengthy set piece in which Richard Burton spouts the most hilariously misconceived Welsh-English idiom (the author is American and the book was a No 1 New York Times bestseller).

Yet the glorious scenery, affecting characters and powerful image of a love that endures even after a lifetime apart all combine to make this a sparkling summer read underpinned by a well thought-out disquisition on modern storytelling.

Irish Independent

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