Last Summer in the City
Last Summer in the City is a classic Italian novel from award-winning author Gianfranco Calligarich, translated into English by Howard Curtis. Protagonist Leo moves from Milan to Rome for work but soon becomes unemployed, addicted to alcohol and living off of the charity of his wealthy friends. On his 30th birthday he meets Arianna, an eccentric young woman recently discharged from a psychiatric hospital, and what follows is their year-long whirlwind romance.
As a book that was written in 1973 (translated from Italian to English for the first time this year) there were some terms used that felt dated and maybe should have been edited out in the translation. Aside from that, I think this book is quite readable from a modern perspective and could pretty easily pass for a contemporary novel.
What I really liked about this book was Calligarich’s ability to set the scene. In particular his descriptions of Rome at night (the glamorous and less-glamorous parts) were mesmerising and I often found myself re-reading passages just to take all of the words in. As Leo’s life circumstances continue to change, we see him drift through the city and witness how Rome influences him. Though Last Summer in the City is based on the central romance between Leo and Arianna, the true protagonist here is Rome.
Reading this book I couldn’t help but compare it to some of the American Classics I’ve read, like The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby - both very male-centric and follow a self-obsessed man in his decline. Unlike The Great Gatsby, however, I didn’t truly believe the romance between the two lovers because the stakes weren’t high enough and the reasons they kept falling out didn’t make much sense to me.
I’m torn over this book. I really enjoyed the writing: the descriptions of Rome were stunning and I enjoyed the writer’s rambling prose, but the main part of the book - the romance between Arianna and Leo - unfortunately just didn’t cut it for me. Overall, not a bad read but not a favourite either!
Thank you to Picador for my review copy.