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This novel by Robert Girardi follows a fish-out-of-water US financial trader as he traverses the backstreets of the mysterious and beautiful Venice, encountering a variety of odd characters along the way, the strangest being the appropriately-named Caterina - 'Signora dei Gatti', or 'Lady of the Cats'.
Jack Squire - the protagonist - finds himself perturbed by the surfeit of concentrated beauty in Venice. He longs for the blandness of the US landscape with its endless vistas of shopping malls and MacDonalds. All of this angst brings about insomnia. and he prowls the deserted streets and piazzas, brooding about events that transpired before the trip. He gets drawn into the labyrinthine city of the lagoon, discovering it represents a map of his own heart - will he survive the revelation?
Mysteries set in Venice , particularly those with an uncanny aspect, will inevitably be measured against the yardstick of Daphne Du Maurier's short story "Don't look now" and its evocative film adaptation by Nic Roeg, and perhaps other Venetian thrillers, such as Ian McEwen's "The Comfort of Strangers".
This mysterious brooding city is almost a cliche in fiction, and sometimes Girardo veers towards parody rather than pastiche. The supernatural element is deftly handled, however, and the book is the right length at just under 200 pages - it is more a long novella than an actual novel, and is the better for its brevity.
All in all, a distracting book, but the author, like his protagonist, and perhaps therefore deliberately, is almost a bystander in the unfolding narrative.
I would recommend this book for a train journey perhaps, or any time which you can set aside to read it in one sitting. Its prose is perhaps a little too brittle to set the book down and pick it up again too many times, and I would suggest that it ingested in one big gulp - as you would a film - to maintain its atmosphere.
Indeed, I believe it is soon to made into a film, and I can imagine it being quite a good one.