The Lament of the Linnet

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Teeming with graveyard visions, religious apparitions, omens, sprites and all things playfully paranormal, this rococo romance from renowned Italian novelist Ortese (1914-1998) boasts an elaborate structure and a deep interest in philosophical mysteries worthy of Umberto Eco. Set in 1793, in the full glare of the Enlightenment, the novel uses the stuff of dreams and fairy tales to reject mechanistic rationalism. When three Belgians--Ingmar de Neville, decadent prince and magician; impoverished sculptor Albert Dupr ; and tubby, ostentatious merchant Alphonse Nodier--venture to Naples, each is smitten by a wealthy glovemaker's austere, inscrutable 16-year-old daughter, Elmina Civile. When Elmina's pet linnet starves to death through her forgetfulness, she tosses the dead bird to the gardener's cat--a seemingly callous act that repulses her suitors but does not prevent Dupr from asking for, and getting, her hand in marriage. As Elmina metamorphoses from cold-blooded scatterbrain to siren to angelic presence, Prince Ingmar, obsessively in love and gifted with clairvoyance, discovers that she is bewitched. Indifferent toward Sasa, her daughter by the now-insane Dupr , Elmina lavishes attention on her informally adopted son, Geronte, a half-witted cripple who wears a filthy hen's feather stuck to his head. The boy may actually be a manifestation of a goblin, the Elf of Cologne--who has been around since 1505 and will die when he reaches age 300 because of a curse. Though elegantly translated, Ortese's (The Iguana) ornate, convoluted sentences and multiple conflicting versions of the same event may try readers' patience. However, as a threnody for the death of kindness and mystery in the modern world--and of course for the linnet--this luxurious and fevered novel hits a perfect, bittersweet note. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Ortese, who died last year, won many Italian literary awards, including the Viareggio Prize. This novel, set during the closing years of the Enlightenment in late 18th-century Italy, tells the story of Prince de Neville and his ward, the penniless sculptor Alpert Dupre. Both come from the Low Countries and both fall in love with a glove-maker's daughter named Elmina while visiting the city of Naples. But why does Elmina not visit her dying mother? And why does Elmina marry to please her father, who just happens not to be her real father? Spells, magic lenses, dying children, and graveyard scenes abound, giving this novel an old-fashioned air. So do the chapter headings, for example, "De Neville departs, but without making peace. Elmina in a swoon. Further mention of the linnet." Ortese succeeds in capturing the lifestyle and texture of Italian life long ago, and her prose is rich and descriptive, but not many modern readers will have the patience to put up with the slow pace and melodramatic prose of this novel. For larger collections only.--Doris Lynch, Monroe Cty. P.L., Bloomington, IN Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The Lament Of The Linnet ( April 12; 325 pp.; 1-86046-206-5): This seductive fable was the last work completed by the late Italian author (1914–98) of The Iguana (1987) and the stories collected in A Music Behind the Wall (1994). The story, set in 18th-century Naples, tells of a glovemaker's mysterious daughter, Elmina, whose beauty attracts the devotion of three Belgian travelers even as her enigmatic amorality confuses and alters them. Perhaps a parable of the corruption of beauty in an age of "Enlightenment," perhaps an oblique study of `'Reason's" vulnerability to the irrational, this hauntingly romantic tale will not disappoint the admirers who have anointed Ortese the present age's most accomplished successor to such master storytellers as Dinesen, Kafka, and Calvino.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781860462061
  • Publisher: Random House Adult Trade Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/1/1999
  • Pages: 325
  • Product dimensions: 5.63 (w) x 8.74 (h) x 1.28 (d)

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