By Ekta R. Garg
May 4, 2012
Rated: Bypass it
A celebrity wife makes an impulsive decision when she realizes she can’t take any more of her self-centered musician husband’s way of life. As they proceed on the husband’s tour through Europe and travel through Italy, the wife grabs her luggage and gets off the train when it stops at Venice. Despite not knowing any Italian and not having any set plan of action, the wife makes her way to a hotel and checks in. Thus begins Kathryn Walker’s novel A Stopover in Venice about a split-second decision that gives several people the otherwise-unlikely opportunity to cross paths and work towards a common goal. Unfortunately the strong subplot Walker offers almost overshadows the protagonist’s story, leaving readers less interested in the heroine and more interested in the work she and her new Venetian friends have undertaken.
As the book opens Nel (Cornelia) Everett ponders her eight years of marriage to her famous musician husband, Antony. As Antony’s star has risen, his relationship with Nel has diminished, and when they finally arrive in Europe for this tour Nel has slowly come to the realization that she just can’t handle Antony’s selfishness and self-centeredness much longer. So she follows an impulse and gets off the train in Venice. The next day, after a short sight-seeing venture, Nel witnesses a group of young boys torturing a dog and rescues the canine from his terrible circumstances. Just as she begins putting together plans to keep the dog, a man approaches Nel and says the dog’s owner has sent him out to look for the pet and is distraught about it missing. Reluctantly Nel follows the man, Matteo, to the home of the dog’s owner, and as she steps through the door Nel (unbeknownst to her at the moment) has just crossed the threshold from her ordinary life into something mysterious and captivating.
The dog’s owner, Lucy, proves to be a gracious hostess to Nel and invites Nel to stay with her. Matteo, it seems, has discovered something unusual in a fresco that has begun to reveal itself through fading plaster in one of the rooms in Lucy’s home. A conservator, Matteo feels the fresco could possibly be the work of sixteenth-century artists. But which one? And why would the artist paint a fresco in a small home that had no historic importance in the 1500s?
As Nel gets to know Lucy and Matteo better, she becomes involved in the mystery that unravels bit by small bit as she and the others work hard to understand the fresco and artifacts discovered in an attic. At the same time Nel has plenty of time to think about her life with Antony and whether she needs to take ownership of her life again, but she feels less than confident to do so. Nel, instead, throws herself wholeheartedly into helping to reveal the secrets of the mysterious artist who painted the fresco.
The most distracting thing about author Walker’s book is the lack of quotation marks denoting dialogue. The entire book is written in narrative style, but clearly the characters are talking to one another. This style choice doesn’t contribute to the story in any obvious way, and instead actually creates a kind of fatigue within the reader. Without those quotation marks noting the start and end of conversations, readers will find themselves working unnecessarily harder to grasp Nel’s story.
Walker also spends too much time and energy building up Nel’s inner conflict. Whole paragraphs can feel excessive at times, and even if readers skip those paragraphs they’re not missing much. This gross indulgence of Nel’s inner thoughts makes readers welcome the parallel story of the unfolding artist mystery, and those sections of the book are much better by a dramatic measure. The writing in the journal entries towards the end of the book provides readers with a much more compelling story, and readers will end up wanting to hear less from and about Nel and more from and about the sixteenth-century artists whose story Nel discovers.
The author succeeds where her descriptions of Venice are concerned, and those descriptions will keep readers engaged and sighing in longing for the great Italian city. Still, I don’t think I would recommend this book because of the bulky, meandering writing. If one wanted to “see” Venice, a travel guide or Google images might be a better alternative.
What the ratings mean:
Bookmark it!–Read this book and then buy it and add it to to your own collection. It’s definitely worth it!
Borrow it–Check this one out from the library; it’s a worthy read, but think twice before spending your hard-earned money on it.
Bypass it–Free time is precious. Don’t spend it on this book!