‘The Flame Of Life’ By Gabriele D’Annunzio

I bought this book in complete ignorance of anything buy visual and tactile beauty; as a physical object. But I wasn’t wrong in guessing that I would enjoy what would surely be some wonderfully overwrought prose.

The plot is wafer thin (Monty Python reference) and driven by issues and concerns that seem positively ridiculous. A dionysian poet named Stelio enthralls a lushly imagined Venice with his wild declamations on art and beauty. Among those enthralled a beautiful actress (former courtesan, too?) alternately called Perdita and La Foscarina. Their love (and presumably, their passionate sex, though that is never mentioned nor described) is voluptuously erotic, but it is haunted by La Foscarita’s greater knowledge of impending knowledge. Yes, she is a nearly decrepit thirty-four (I’m guessing the young genius poet is in his mid-twenties). I’ll admit, those concerns pulled me out of the narrative a bit. Maybe if he had been twenty and she was thirty-nine, I’d have seen the problem more clearly… She is also haunted by the memory of a beautiful and, needless to say, virginal singer named Donatella. Poor Perdita believes that Donatella is destined to be Stelio’s life partner.

But it’s not about plot. It’s about lengthy digressions on art and poetry and architecture and Richard Wagner’s death (which bookends the novel; placing the action around the year 1883). It’s about painfully decadent prose stylings that you will either love or that will force you set the book down before the fifth page.

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