Warning: ranting follows.
This is a day and age of snark. Which is fine by me, because I am in general a little (a lot?) bit snarky. I don’t care what newspaper article tells me we have entered the ‘age of nice’; those people obviously haven’t read any book reviews on goodreads lately.
The era of sly in jokes, mocking repartee and clever comebacks (which let’s face it, until recently, was completely dominated Oscar Wilde…) has been augmented with gifs, memes and snappy one-liners.
I LIKE that. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate a world in which ironic statements can be added to grumpy cats pics and Gene Wilder in all his Willy Wonka glory.
Sidebar: a search for grumpy cat + willy wonka memes? will totally make up for ANY monday.
I don’t care what anyone says: that shizzle is priceless…
I also don’t mind it in books. In choosing between a saccharine, tooth-ache inducing romance novel, or one that was wry, tongue-in-cheek or a little acerbic, the latter will always win hands down.
I am adding this as preface to the following statement:
When In Rome, by Amabile Giusti, (translated by) Sarah Christine Varney is one of the most unpleasant, unlikeable and generally SNARKY books I have ever had the displeasure of encountering.
I was bamboozled by a cover (that COVER y’all) and a premise that seemed touch on at least 12 of my favourite movies (albeit tangentially), including Under the Tuscan Sun, and Roman Holiday, mixed in with a bit of His Girl Friday, maybe some When Harry Met Sally, Bridget Jones and something else delightful by Nora Ephron. (Because everything of hers IS delightful)
i.e: compulsive reading for Valancy.
Unfortunately, I was DUPED.
I was hoaxed, swindled & bilked. I was shafted, swizzled and completely gyped.
I may have thrown a table.
In other words, I felt a little strongly about the whole thing.
I shall elucidate:
When In Rome is about Carlotta. All about Carlotta.
Despite the myriad of secondary characters, thrown in, around, and at Carlotta. This book is ONLY ever about Carlotta.
And not in an about-a-boy-hugh-grant-endearly-charming-&-quirky kind of way. No, this book should be renamed I, Carlotta; because she is the only person who matters in this scenario.
So ‘spirited and unconventional’ Carlotta is turning thirty. (Yes, she is practically dead). Fired because of ‘irrepressible frankness’; living in ‘Rome’; constantly at war with her ‘mess’ of a family and despairing over her ‘non existent’ love life, she decides to ‘rent’ her apartment out to make ends meet.
Her new roommate Luca is a ‘ charming’ ‘writer’ ; will shag anything that breathes, but is gorgeous with a ‘wicked sense of humour’. Of course, Carlotta falls ‘in love’ with Luca and has to keep her feelings a secret, whilst starting a new job, dealing with her family and — blah blah blah.
You will note the obscene amount of air quotes. That is because they are taken DIRECTLY from the blurb and I have yet to find evidence for their usage in the actual story.
‘Spirited and unconventional’ Carlotta, is actually a huge hot mess of hysteria, insecurity, pettiness and awkwardly bad behaviour. Apparently her spiritedness is directly related to her ability to be viciously mean to people’s faces and get away without being kidney punched. (I totally would have.) Her unconventionality is directly linked to her sporadic jobs as set designer or prop source-r (I never did really nut that one out) and is labelled so, because she didn’t enter the beauty pageants her mother wanted her to, when she was five, and currently wasn’t married and popping out bed bugs.
Her ‘irrepressible frankness’ (see above comments re hot mess, hysteria and vicious meanness). And I am wondering if the author (or translator) actually knew what irrepressible meant because SYNONYMS are upbeat, chipper, peppy and effervescent.
And this is Carlotta:
I found exactly NO evidence that Carlotta lived in ‘Rome’, except for two random mentions of Italian towns. That’s it. For all intents and purposes she could have been living directly in the middle America. For a while there, I thought Rome was maybe a type of London, Ohio, or Paris, Texas… not actually ROME, home of globally influential art, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and probably another 37 places of unique historical importance. I don’t know if this was purposeful; but how incredibly disappointing to read a story supposedly set in Rome, but that basically sounds like a night out on George St.
Her ‘mess’ of a family includes divorced parents and a sister. Her father has become involved in a delightful, sensible lady and is happy; her mother is sleeping with the owner of a lingerie company and seems fairly content. The mess, seems to directly relate to Carlotta’s sister: beautiful (whilst Carlotta is ordinary) and a slut, (whilst Carlotta is, if not virginal paragon of virtue, at least only gently used…and never really enjoyed IT.)
And yes, I invoked the s-word. Because that is how Carlottta sees her.
Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention Erika. Five years younger than me, she got everything from our mother. The beauty, the posture, the boobs, the long legs, the straight hair, and the tendency not to regard the opinions of others. Let’s put it this way: I hadn’t lost my virginity by the time I was twenty, so I reluctantly gave it up to a college friend….By this time, Erika had not only already given it up, but was quite skilled. She’s basically the female version of Luca, except that she despises me deeply…
So it goes without saying that Erika likes to show herself off…her walls are covered with sepia images of her own body: a glimpse of her breast, her navel, her back adorned with a pearl necklace, her bare feet on top of a glass cube.
In short, Erika’s a real bitch. We go months without seeing each other, and when we talk on the phone, she only talks about herself. She ends each conversation with a perfunctory “Nothing new with you, right?”—her polite way of saying that she knows I’ll never find a decent man, and even if I did, she’d snatch him up.
I dunno, on scales of B__to the__ITCH – I would hazard that Carlotta’s heart is probably weighing more than a sacred feather of Ma’at at this point…
‘non existent’ love life seems to be more hyperbole than anything, because despite the fact that Carlotta talks about how unattractive she is, how her life of forced celibacy pains her, and how she wished she could be a indiscriminate whore like her sister or Luca…she ends up having no less than THREE relationships with the opposite sex (and one weird almost declaration from a maybe lesbian) throughout the course of the story.
YES. Three sane, almost normal and fairly attractive men want to shag Carlotta.
I was surprised too.
The ‘renting’ of the apartment takes place off-book. It has already happened by the time we meet Carlotta. Normally this isn’t something that would irritate me, but I was so cranky at the entire novel, that even just the fact that it is alluded to as a major plot point, and is then subsequently dismissed as a past event?
ok – so more paroxysms of rage…
Luca, already ensconced in the house of madness, is neither ‘charming’ nor really a ‘writer’ ; he definitely will shag anything that breathes, and although is gorgeous (according to descriptions) has absolutely no sign of a sense of humour, wicked or otherwise.
My issue is that Carlotta is reprehensible as a person, has absolutely no growth, learns NOTHING, and continues whinging right to the bitter end. And still ends up with Luca.
And not only does she not deserve happy ending, Luca is an a-hole bastard that will hump anything that breathes, including (spoiler alert) Carlotta’s sister, but is neither that sorry nor really has any sort of GROVEL to make up for the reality of his complete and utter douche-ness.
Not a spoiler, y’all – just a bitter life lesson.
My problem is – I don’t know who to blame.
Is it the author? And her total inability to:
1) plot her way out of a paper bag?
2) make characters that are likeable or capable of growth?
3) world-build in a way that seems even vaguely reminiscent of an actual place?
Or is it the translator?
I’ve found in the past, a weird sense of dualism in translated works. There are two voices saying the same thing at two different speeds. It constantly throws my concentration and pulls me out of the story, and often the words don’t seem to flow…
And some parts of this just felt awkward:
Just then, Luca comes in. The top of a golden baguette peeks out of the plastic bag he’s holding. I am suddenly aware of tears pricking the corners of my eyes. Luca’s actually a really sensitive guy when some naked chick isn’t monopolizing his attention. He sets the bag on the table and comes over to me.
“What is it, little butterfly?” he asks. “Did it not go well? Don’t tell me you made a bad joke.”
“Kind of,” I say, shrugging.
“You can’t keep your mouth shut! That’s why you lost that job for the French perfume ad a month ago.”
“More like I can’t keep my nose shut! Let’s be honest, you can’t sell a perfume that smells like sardines soaked in skunk sweat! That doesn’t mean he should have been so offended and fired me. Oh well. Did you go shopping?”
tres gauche anyone…?
But is that the author or the translation?
Either way, instead of a romance, with a true love fairy tale and a little bit of armchair sight seeing; I got narcissism, bottled and distilled down to its essence, and squished between the pages of a book.
Like Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairies…only far less interesting…
It smells like insincerity, insecurity, unkindness and laziness of the worst sort.
Brigid Delaney, in an article (from somewhere, but I forget), defined snark as ‘cynical, weary, heavy with irony, urbane, unimpressed, a sort of disgust transmuted through a lifted brow and a witty putdown.’
And that, ladies and gentlebugs, is EXACTLY what came through when I was reading When In Rome.
Thrice now I have been disappointed by things entitled When in Rome;
- Mary Kate & Ashley Olsen: Movie of terribleness
- Kristen Bell & Duhamel movie: of NO Chemistry and equally terrible acting;
- A mistaken purchase of ‘When in Rome’ mixtape by Lewis (seriously, when do rappers have innocuous names like Lewis, and have classical art on the cover of their albums???)
This will make it quadrice (totally using it, don’t care if it’s not a word)
Steer clear of things about things in ROME.
There is definitely such a thing as too much snark. I know – I just finished reading it.
Valancy: leaving the hardboiled world of the disenchanted, for the innocent bygone days of my little pony.
Header Image: Unconscious Rivals, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1893
6 thoughts on “When in Rome, Amabile Giusti, (or Calling for a SNARK-reprieve)”
Thank you, Valancy, this was such an interesting review. It sounds like Carlotta inhabits a very depressing and extremely boring world made more so by her complete absorption in herself. Even to the point of having no interest in the outside world i.e. Rome. I think some of the issues can be blamed on translation – what the author intended can’t always be interpreted by the translator resulting in awkwardness i.e. how does a baguette peep out of a plastic bag? Also, and I was discussing this with a friend the other day, that certain types of authors just seem to enjoy writing about awful people, their families and their lives. Perhaps a bit of self-therapy on the part of the author perhaps?
hey – that is an intriguing point…was Carlotta, as a character, so self-absorbed, there was no room for anything else? If you have a character like Carlotta, how much control does an author have over her?
And maybe people do like writing about the minutiae of not-very-nice people…I suppose I just don’t like reading about them! 🙂
This sounds awful, but your review is a hoot! There’s something strangely obscene about this line: “The top of a golden baguette peeks out of the plastic bag he’s holding.” On that line alone, use the thing as a doorstop.
I know! Things I can never look at the same way again:
– plastic bags
– little butterflies.
These are now a few of my LEAST favourite things…
It’s really sad about the baguettes because baguettes are so good. But, after your reading trauma, totally with you there. I’ve never liked butterflies: their bodies freak me out.
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I am in TOTAL agreement re butterflies – they are essentially attractive, less furry moths — (*suppresses a shudder*) they are like the haut ton of the insect world – but that doesn’t make them any less an insect with 6 legs…
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