Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Four Seasons in Rome

I thought that I might write about books that I HAVEN'T read recently, or rather that I have started to read and then put down, never to be picked up again. Some of these books have been highly recommended by reviewers and prominently displayed in bookshops on 2 for 3 offers, but are simply so badly written or lacking in narrative tension that I haven't had the heart to go on. I used to feel a kind of moral duty to finish a book once I had started it, but no more. If the author can't make me want to read it, then I can't be bothered.
But why end the year on a grouchy note? Instead I've decided to write about a book I did like, FOUR SEASONS IN ROME by Anthony Doerr, a book of unassuming dimensions and scope, and all the better for that, beautifully written, touching and thoughtful. Doerr is a young Mid-Western novelist. On the day that his wife gave birth to twins he went home from the hospital to find a letter awarding him a fellowship in Rome; he didn't even know he had been entered for it. Nine months later he and his wife arrived in Rome with their babies. They spoke virtually no Italian. They came from a town with hardly any history to a city and a culture steeped in it. That was one part of their adventure, and the new world of parenthood was another. A sense of Roman history and the day-to-day details of domestic life in a foreign country are woven together in a way that I found beguiling. During their year in Rome, Pope John Paul II died and Doerr's description of the city as it waits for this momentous event and then of the funeral which he struggled to attend with his two sons is alone worth the price of the book.
When I had finished reading it, I longed to go on sabbatical myself.

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