Tag Archives: John Berendt

Is this the best or worst book about Venice? The City of Falling Angels – John Berendt

Described by my Time Out Venice guide as ‘gossipy’ and Jan Morris as dirt digging, this book is undoubtedly both, but is an extremely interesting non fictional account of  Venice and its people.  This is fantastic and a highly recommended read if holidaying in Venice.  I was reading this whilst  having my cappuccino sitting by the Accademia Bridge looking at Santa Maria della Salute, exactly the same view as the cover, and it was one of those moments where you think life doesn’t get much better than this.

Berendt arrives in Venice during the controversy of the aftermath of the  fire in the Fenice Theatre – was it arson, incompetence or neglect on the part of politicians?  As the story unfolds we begin to learn more about the underworld of Venetian life.  Berendt’s book is formed by his encounters with acquaintances (especially rich and or titled ones) during his visit.  In fact his stories show some of the worst sides of Venetian society and his stories are so damning about individuals that it is  surprising he didn’t get sued for libel.

The book opens with the Seguso family and then goes on to  discuss the traditional history of feuds within Murano glass families.  He claims that one of the sons broke away from the family business  to set up his rival business and then attempted to have his father declared insane in order to stage a complete take over.   He also visits the  Curtis family in the Palazzo Barbaro, the setting that inspired James to write the Wings of a Dove and discusses the decline of this family and their inability to hold onto all of the property.  The personal rivalry of Save Venice organisation makes the key members sound like egomaniacs who have lost sight of their original aim.

Berendt also recounts the  story about the widow of  the Fascist poet Ezra Pound, who incidentally was once imprisoned for Fascist remarks.  Olga Rudge, he asserts was cheated out of her property and Pound’s papers by two seemingly friendly expats one of whom was director of the Guggenheim museum, he then draws parallels between this and Henry James’ Aspen papers (which sound like a good read for the future) Despite all these stories about others Berendt tells us very little of his personal life, he just seems to prance around parties and have no personal connections with anyone at all.

Jan Morris argues that “He is not much concerned with the architecture or history of the city. He rarely mentions the inside of a church or a street scene, let alone a lagoon sunset. His business is to dig out the dirt – to expose the myriad corruptions, feuds, deceits, ambitions and dynastic resentments which, now as always, fester behind the facades of the Serenissima.”

This is probably fair, it makes Venice seem insular and petty place  and does not draw attention to the fantastic beauties of Venice. but it doesn’t stop it being a good read.  Its probably best to read it while you are there, or it might put you off.  So I think it’s great but am interested to know if it really is a polarising read.

Not technically Venice here, but reading the book in the neighbouring island of Burano.

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Holiday reading for Italy and my top 7 Italian themed books

Hurrah, booked my Easter holiday and we are off to Venice, Verona and Bologna.  Have never been to Bologna before but I absolutely love Venice and Verona.  While I am on holiday I always like to read books which are set in that country so any recommendations of good books set in Italy would be useful. These are some of the great books about Italy that I have read, they are more or less of order of brilliance;

1. City of Falling Angels – John Berendt.  This book is amazing, a really interesting non fiction account of Berendt’s arrival in Venice three days after the Fenice Opera house burns down.  He gives fascinating accounts of the city and its people, it is a must read for anyone going to Venice.

2. A Room with a View – EM Forster – amazing, made me want to go on a romantic honeymoon there, unfortunately haven’t met anyone romantic to go with!  Also Where Angels Fear to Tread, was great but might be a bit of a downer as a holiday read.

3. The Enchanted April – Elizabeth von Arnim.  This book is absolutely brilliant.  It is the story of four completely different English women in the 1920s who  go to stay in a secuded beautiful castle in Italy.  All are disillusioned in some way be it an unhappy marriage or disappointment in love, but  they find themselves being transformed by Italy itself.  The BBC drama on youtube is fantastic to watch too.

4. Miss Garnet’s Angel – Sally Vickers, I have already read this twice and enjoyed it much more the second time.

5. Dont Look Now – Daphne Du Maurier, if I want to end up completely terrified whilst in Venice.

6. Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco, interesting little mystery and not as highbrow as all his other books.

7. Sarah Dunnant – Birth of Venus and In the Company of the Courtesan.  Set in 16th century Florence and Venice respectively, good page turners but I was disappointed with her last novel.

Love in Idleness – Amanda Craig.  Now I have heard this book is good,  so if anyone has any opinions about it or has any other suggestions that  would be great.  Not sure I want to Death in Venice or Wings of a Dove again though.

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