A bit more than two years ago I had the great pleasure of reading and posting on Linda Lappin's wonderful novel centering on Katherine Mansfield Katherine's Wish. I have now read her first novel, The Etruscan and I was spellbound by the plot lines, the characters while being amazed by the beauty of her prose style.
The Etruscan is set in 1920s in Italy in the area north of Rome where the Etruscans held sway before being taken over by the Romans. There is something wonderfully old fashioned about this novel that I really loved. I did not just feel like I was in the 1920s because the plot said I was, I felt like I was through the incredible talent of Lappin viscerally transported to Tuscany in the 1920s, seen through the eyes of English visitors. Just as we see in the short stories and novels of D. H. Lawrence and E. M. Forster in the 1920s Italy was an exotic place to the English, one where they could live out fantasies of dark gods and forbidden pleasures. Pan dances in The Etruscan in a deeper way than he does in Lawrence or Forster.
The novel is the story of Harriet Sackett, a single independent English woman who, being bored in staid London, travels to Italy to write about and photograph Etruscan tombs. She is in the employ of the London Theosophical Society. The story is told in a very interesting creative fashion through several points of view and through the diary of Harriet. Harriet is still heart broken from a gone wrong love affair, she rents a broken down old farmhouse in Tuscany and proceeds to fall in love with a very mysterious count.
Months go by and nobody back in England in the family hears from her. They get worried so they send their housekeeper to Italy to check on her and help her. The scene where the helper, Mrs Parsons, comes to the house and what she finds there is simply brilliant, one of the best pieces of setting writing I have ever read. You will be chilled and amazed when you read it.
I do not want to tell a lot of the plot but Lappin has written high Gothic literary novel that can sit with the best of the Gothic novels while rising above their limits to a work fully of the 21th century.. There is amazing scene with a naked Etruscan man, seemingly the count waving a sword around. There are lots of mysterious artifacts. Harriet begins to enter the world of Etruscan mythology, we are not sure what is real and what is imagined and we also have to filter it through her more prosaic cousins. There are sinister figures to befuddle us and we wonder what kind of spell the count, hardly an Adonis, has cast on Harriet. Harriet describes the count to her cousins and in her diary as a man of mysterious sinister beauty but they see him as just a shabby man with little but his title to appeal.
This is in a way a Gothic novel but Harriet is not your helpless woman dependent on a man for her identity and living. Harriet is near middle aged, she has traveled the world and even wears pants, which shocks a lot of people. During much of the story, Harriet is unconscious, Mrs Parsons thinks the count might have poisoned her with mushrooms and is shocked to see she eats porcupine stew. The her cousin Stephen, his wife and Mrs Parsons all have different views of her diary.
The Etruscan is a marvelously written wickedly imaginative novels that transcends the bounds of the literary Gothic novel which it resembles in structure. I recommend it, and Katherine's Wish, to all lovers of quality fiction.
Lappin has allowed me to advise my readers that she has two hardback editions of the book and one Kindle edition to give to a reader of my blog. If you would like a copy, please send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The books will be given away on a first asked basis and you will be asked to provide your address to Ms Lappin.
You can learn more about Lappin's work on her webpage.
Linda Lappin, poet, novelist, and translator, was born in Tennessee in 1953. She received an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop in 1978. During her years at Iowa, she specialized in poetry with Florida poet Donald Justice. Her first volume of poetry, Wintering with the Abominable Snowman, was published by the avant-garde press, 'kayak,' of Santa Cruz, California in 1976. She received a Fulbright grant in 1978 to participate in a two-year Fulbright seminar in literary translation held in Rome at the Centro Studi Americani, under the directorship of Frank MacShane of Columbia University and William Weaver, the noted translator from Italian. The project pursued by Lappin in those years, a translation from the Italian of Carmelo Samon...'s novel, Brothers, won two prizes in literary translation in the United States: The Renato Poggioli Award in Translation from Italian given by the New York PEN club and a National Endowment for the Arts grant in translation in 1987. She was awarded a second translation grant from the NEA in 1996 for her work on Tuscan writer Federigo Tozzi. From 1987 to the year 2000, she published essays, poems, reviews, and short stories in many US and European publications, including several essays on women writers and artists of the 1920s, including "Missing Person in Montparnasse," in the Literary Review, dedicated to the life of Jeanne H‚buterne, "Jane Heap and her Circle" in Prairie Schooner, dealing with the lives of Jane Heap and Margaret Anderson, founders of the Little Review and "Dada Queen in the Bad Boys' Club, Baroness Elsa Von Freitag Loringhoven" in Southwest Review. Major themes in Lappin's work include women's biographies and autobiographies, expatriate writers in the 1920s, and displacement.
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