“[A] fine, exultant book . . . Praise be . . . for novelist Rachel Cusk, who brings to her three-month sojourn in Italy a characteristic strangeness and charm.” Olivia Laing, The Observer (London)
“Elegantly written and astutely observed . . . Cusk's assessments of art are wonderfully idiosyncratic . . . Rigorous and compelling.” Kirkus Reviews
“A writer of almost electrifying intensity . . . [Cusk's] rigorous intellect is always at play, whether she's writing about a tomato or a tomb, and it is this very archness, this passion, that gives her beautiful, moving book such power. Indeed, her detailed examination of the tiny nuances that embroider family life gives her account of her Italian summer the kind of luminosity she seeks, and finds, in visual art.” Hilary Fannin, The Irish Times
“Cusk is often bracing and rigorous, . . . applying her phrases like the brushstrokes of the masters she so admires. This is the finest memoir of Italy I have read since--twenty years ago more or less--Jonathan Keates' Italian Journeys made Italy suddenly seem irresistible and present in all its dimensions. Cusk makes Italy sing.” Tom Adair, The Scotsman
“The traumatic juxtaposition of sublime paintings and tourist tat inspires Cusk to writing that will sit honourably in an anthology with Byron and Forster . . . Travel writing about Italy might be an oversubscribed genre, but The Last Supper more than earns its place at the table.” Celia Brayfield, The Times (London)
“[Cusk] writes with the intelligence, wit, and keen eye for detail demanded by any kind of reporting.” The New Yorker
“Each sentence is crisply perfect, binding brilliantly detailed descriptions to sensitive, sharp observations.” Bookforum
“A fascinating inquiry into expectations and our desire to rigidly control our lives.” Los Angeles Times
“There's a reason for the unrelenting stream of literature about moving to Italy--it's everyone's fantasy. Cusk details her family's three-month tour of the country in this delightful romp through rented villas, Amalfi beaches and plenty of pasta and gelato.” More
“Engaging. . . 'The Last Supper: A Summer in Italy' is not your typical rosemary-scented, ready-for-cable ode to renovating a rustic house and rubbing shoulders with jolly peasants. A very talented novelist and observer, Cusk has a knack for drilling down into the thick of things and finding strangeness in even the most ordinary experiences.. . . The author approaches everything she sees through the prism of history and literature, allowing herself to be captivated by her surroundings even while she is trying desperately to detach herself from the tourists all around. Cusk may hate tourists -- her descriptions of them are usually hilarious and sometimes cruel--but she makes a passionate, sharp-tongued tour guide in this book about fleeing the ordinary in search of something beautiful.” Salon
“Charming, restless, idiosyncratic hybrid of classic family road trip and probing personal essay where the roadside attractions include Pompeii, the Basilica of Saint Francis and Etruscan tombs, and the big questions on aesthetics and truth and human nature that such sites elicit are smartly explored . . . improvisatory and sensual.” San Francisco Chronicle
“Unlike day-tripping tourists, the thoughtful visitor doesn't know in advance what will seize her attention. A basket of bread and tomatoes, a Raphael Madonna, a storm that breaks with terrible beauty over the Ligurian coast, the progressively gothic hostelries through which the travelers wend their way home: All are fleetingly illumined by Cusk's exquisite prose, though none more hauntingly than the predawn English countryside, "like a sleeping baby . . . somehow new and unmarked,'' from which they set off for their summer abroad.” Boston Globe
“Cusk takes us from Tuscany and Umbria south to Naples and Capri, writing throughout in the present tense, which makes the journey more immediate, and in the minimalist shorthand of a Raymond Carver short story: ‘The fireflies scatter in drifts, like embers'; ‘There is a bang at the door: It is a man.' There are several nice takes on food, history and landscape, and splendid observations on artists, as when she writes of Cimabue, that ‘he restored to the painted human form its softness and mortality, its animal nature and the grandeur of its emotion.” Providence Journal
“British novelist Rachel Cusk's The Last Supper is a perceptive account of the pleasures and perils that resulted from uprooting her family from England to the Italian countryside for a winter” Travel + Leisure, "Great Summer Reading"
“[Cusk]'s got guts . . . The traumatic juxtaposition of sublime paintings and tourist tat inspires Cusk to writing that will sit honourably in an anthology with Byron and Forster . . . Travel writing about Italy might be an oversubscribed genre, but The Last Supper more than earns its place at the table.” Celia Brayfield, The Times (London)
“What Cusk does not learn, and doesn't need to learn, is how to write. As always in her work, there is a scattering of archaisms (‘commence,' ‘venture,' ‘outlay') that sometimes gives the prose an archness verging on the pretentious, but the intensity of her gaze can also give rise to descriptions of beauty and precision. Alert to nuance, she will catch the ‘blanched severity' in a face, the sadness ‘that you see in the eyes of people who were unhappy children,' the self-consciousness of an American honeymooner with ‘the faux-heroic look of a Kennedy.' And her descriptions of Italian food--pizza 'like a smiling face' that ‘assuages the fear of complexity,' dough ‘as pliant and soothing' as a mother's breast--are pure joy.” Christina Patterson, New Statesman
English novelist Cusk (Arlington Park) delivers a relatively humorless account of traveling with her husband and two children over three warm months in Italy, from Tuscany to Naples and Rome. She was in search of beauty, because she felt afflicted by England's bland obtuseness nurtured by a cold climate and unappetizing food, and felt Italy's pull through the characters in Tintoretto's painting The Last Supper.Driving through Italy, the family (her husband is mentioned only once; thereafter he is only part of the collective "we") stayed longest in Arezzo, a pastoral spot in eastern Tuscany, where Cusk found herself on a trail named after the 15th-century painter Piero della Francesca; she felt herself on the edge of an "ocean of knowledge" that required "complete immersion." Armed with Vasari's Lives of the Artists, she trekked to find these early Renaissance works of art, many reproduced here (as well as the family's own picturesque snapshots) and records her sympathetic impressions; of Cimabue's tremendously moving portrait of St. Francis, she writes what could also be the artist's visionary declaration: "I am nothing. I am everything." Her observations of the ex-pat community and foreign tourists are critical and grumpy, and the last leg, through Pompeii and Rome, feels anticlimactic. (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Many a book has been written about dissatisfaction with everyday life. And many of these have involved escaping to the Italian countryside in search of all things pastoral. In this memoir, Whitbred Award-winning novelist Cusk (Arlington Park) applies her usual philosophical and metaphorical stamp to this recently popular genre. Dissatisfied with life, her family leaves England for three months in Italy, seeking a respite from the daily grind and perhaps alternatives to their current restlessness. While many books in this genre wax poetic about the simple life and food of the authentic Italian experience, Cusk's cultural focus is on art, particularly on the so-called Piero della Francesca trail of Tuscan towns relating to the artist. Though the family makes some attempts at integrating themselves into their community, most of their experience is with other tourists and ex-pats, providing a different view of the Italian escape experience. Much of the work is typical Cusk, lyrical with a touch of sadness in its honesty. A refreshing break from the numerous recent travelers' memoirs.
As elegantly written and astutely observed as her fiction (Arlington Park, 2007, etc.), Cusk's memoir describes looking at art and getting to know the locals from Tuscany to Naples..The author and her husband sold their house in England, took their two daughters out of school and "decided to go to Italy, though not forever. Three months, a season, was as much of the future as we cared to see." Cusk's sharp wit is apparent even when perusing an Italian phrase book, "where Tony and Mario are forever ordering the appropriate coffee…and Marcella, in her loop of eternity, stands on a street corner in Verona asking Fabrizio for directions to the railway station." She's less appealing when bemoaning the physical ugliness of the modern world and snobbishly disdaining tourists who, like her, came to Italy to imbibe beauty. Just because these hapless folks stand in long museum lines—they hadn't the foresight to book tickets ahead as Cusk did—and arrive in tour buses instead of in their own car, they aren't necessarily incapable of appreciating Piero della Francesca or Raphael as much as the sensitive author. Still, Cusk's assessments of art are wonderfully idiosyncratic, as is her analysis of Italian food: "soft and feminine…kind to children." A cranky tour guide is preferable to a boring one, and except when dealing with the tourist hoi polloi, the author is sharp rather than nasty. Her account of a series of tennis matches brilliantly captures people's personalities through their style of play, and her character sketches throughout are equally revealing. Husband and children are never named and deliberately left in vague outline, but we sense the family's closeness and come to agree with Cuskthat her daughters "have been formed, not bereaved," by their sudden uprooting from everything familiar in their lives. Now they have their mother's atmospheric account as a keepsake..Not as agreeable as this season's other Author Abroad memoir, Roland Merullo's The Italian Summer (2009), but more rigorous and compelling.