I think that was the most sensual and erotic prologue I have ever read.
Anyway, what is this book about?
Well, say you have a character, an Italian poet, who used to be an assassin. The setting is post-WWII Italy, late 1940s. This man happens to be obsessed with suicide, and is planning when he would do it. In fact, he has a typology of suicide, and characterizes them based on motive, purpose, and overall social impact. You now have as a character Dante Omero Sabato, a poet and translator in his 40s, and sexually insatiable.
Enter the sisters, Gladys and Prudence Godfrey, who both comes to Italy as aspiring actresses. Gladys and Prudence both capture the attention of Dante, and Dante falls in love with both of them. The weird thing is that the sisters are totally different, and for Dante, he cannot just have one, but needs both to survive. Gladys gladly haves sex with him, while Prudence prudently doesn't.
That's the setting and overall theme of the book. And in the course of two years, the threesome does things together and separate, all over Italy, and the book paints the emotional ups and downs that this arrangement results in.
Regarding the writing and style of the book, I loved the lush and exotic backdrop. Things happen in Rome, in Castiglioncello, in the Aeolian Islands, and the description is so vivid, that I feel I was there. Having visited Rome in 2005, I can mentally navigate my way in the chapters that were set in Rome, such as their strolls in Piazza Navona, Dante's apartment near the Campo de' Piori, and the small nooks and crannies in and around the Basilica Santa Maria in Trastevere. Also, having watched movies such as The Talented Mister Ripley also helped.
Regarding the sex, yes, I have to admit, there's plenty of sex in the book, in all its derivatives. Perhaps this book approximates the full spectrum of human sexuality, and it narrates it with taste. It is not pornographic: the author's purpose is never to arouse the reader, but instead, sex is portrayed as a valid and legitimate expression of human emotion to another human, regardless of whether it is socially approved or not.
In the end, two years pass, and the love affair ceases. The characters move on to a different chapter in their lives. However, for the small slice of time that the author managed to focus on, where these characters' lives intersected, it was a very tumultuous ride. I believe that this is pure psychological fiction at its finest.
4.5 out of 5 stars.
See my other book reviews here.