Paperback: My Tango with Barbara Strozzi, By Russell Hoban

Bloomsbury £10.99
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The Independent Culture

Russell Hoban is an author of mythopoeic fantasy, sci-fi and magical realist fictions (the excellent Riddley Walker, for example) that are supported by complex frameworks of reference of his own invention. But in his latest, an offbeat romance between a blocked novelist and an artist's model turned painter of eyeballs, it turns out that Barbara Strozzi, the 17th-century Venetian singer with whom the male protagonist is obsessed, was real. The numerous other esoteric cultural, theological, mythological and astrological references that litter the text all checked out too, and the story is firmly grounded in the specificity of modern London living: pizza deliveries, District line tube journeys and bottles of wine from Waitrose.

Yet this is a love story that exists almost entirely in its lead characters' minds. The action tends to happen while they are apart, in that early stage of a romance between two people who've been disappointed in the past in which they warily circle around one another. My Tango is a deceptively complex novel of ideas, about reality, identity and ontology, that is only masquerading as a sweetly simple boy meets girl story.