Rococo by Adriana Trigiani

Why is guilt like an espresso?
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

They are a passionate lot, but at the centre of their whirlwind of births, marriages and deaths, Bartolomeo himself is strangely serene. He maintains his bachelor life, with visits to New York to pick up satin swatches, crystal trims and perky redheads. The rest of his family come to him for advice and solace, and their various griefs and frustrations throb off the page to bring emotional resonance to the book.

Bartolomeo's great tribulation comes when he wins the contract to redesign his beloved parish church, Our Lady of Fatima. His passions and troubles come not with love or grief but in artistic struggles to realise his dream. Along the way he meets various colourful artists and designers who influence his friends and his ideas, as he struggles to complete the work in time.

For the hero of a book with many descriptions of Italian-American vivacity, Bartolomeo's coolness is surprising. As all the other characters strain for romantic fulfilment, he is happy to remain unattached, but his own bemusement about his bachelorhood and sexuality make him human and believable. With his detachment and wry insight ("Guilt after sex is the espresso after dessert"), he is more Flora Poste or even Elizabeth Bennet than an impulsive Italian stereotype. But he is, like those heroines, full of affection for the messy world around him, and his lyrical and loving description of places, people and things give an exultant dimension to his character.

Trigiani has taken as her subject matter, an ethnic American family with problems, that could be torpid and clichéd. Instead, with her usual deftness and lightness of touch, together with a delightfully charismatic hero, she has created an exuberant and stylish story.