The Young Bride by Alessandro Baricco

I read Silk a couple of years ago, and to this day it remains the best book I’ve ever read. In fact, it was so good, I couldn’t finish another book for months. But I realised … and I’m doing it again: this isn’t about Silk, this is about another piece from Alessandro Baricco’s multi-room writing studio.

I’m not sure how the Young Bride escaped my radar for so long, but when I found it, it was a day of joy. It’s an odd story; a dense, literary tale about a young woman who comes to live with a family of wealthy textile merchants. She has been promised to the Son of the family’s patriarch, but on her arrival she discovers the Son has travelled to England to study manufacturing. No one is sure when he will return, so she decides to wait for him, slowly becoming indoctrinated into the strange domestic and sexual rituals of the Family. After a time though, it becomes clear that the Son is no longer in England; he left the country to travel further, and has not been heard from since. The Bride, now bewitched by the Family, and weaving an intricate web of desire of her own, must face the possibility that the Son may never return.

Yes, it’s Alessandro Baricco, so you know it’s going to be a great book, though that doesn’t mean you’re going to like everything about it. I mean, I like a good poetic read as much as the next would-be writer, but sometimes I found the prose a little dense, to the point that it sometimes got in the way of the story, and that’s a shame because it really is a great story. The characters are perfectly flawed, the setting is immaculately crafted and the pace, while measured, is pretty much what a book like this needs. But occasionally, very occasionally, the story gets lost in the poetry.

But aside from that, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read that doesn’t builds to a gentle but satisfying end.

Seven out of ten

Book review: Ocean Sea by Alessandro Baricco

ocean_seaSome books I read for the excitement, some books I read for the clever plot twists; I’ve even been known to read some books just to study the punctuation. Alessandro Barrico’s works I tend to read just for the sheer pleasure of looking at the words. Ocean Sea is no exception. I think the stark way to describe it is a very long Italian poem translated into English (and it’s in the translation that many books like this fail in my view). If you go much deeper then Ocean Sea is a work of magical realism. It tells the story of some quite ordinary people who share desires and life experiences  that drive them to this magical inn by the sea. Sometimes I need a bit of a firm grounding when I’m reading the book; I thought that I would have liked to have been a little more certain what this place actually was. But as I often find with Barrico’s books, it’s best to stop worrying about the intracies of the story and just let yourself get carried along by the prose and the subtle humour. I liked the idea, though I wasn’t sure there was enough there for a book of its length. It did tend to meander a lot through the characters lives, and so I think I was mostly lost in the use of language and phrasing than the story itself. There were some moments in the book that were quite moving; I was fascinated by the man writing love letters to a woman he was yet to meet, and the man who was researching the nature of endings. It really did go off the deep end in a few places and I found myself struggling to keep up; this is where the book lacked the smooth storytelling that the author/translator demonstrated in Silk (still my favourite book of all time). But as a study in the use of poetic prose, Ocean Sea is stunning.

Seven out of ten.