Non fiction – paperback; Faber and Faber; 336 pages; 1993.
I am not a great fan of travelogues or travel memoirs, because I often think they don’t really make sense, or resonate strongly enough, unless you have been to the places depicted. For instance, it’s all well and good to read a travel tome about Australia and how terrible the flies are in the desert, but until you’ve actually experienced flies swarming around you and crawling into every face crevice it really doesn’t mean anything — you think you know but you really have no idea!
I decided to read Venice in preparation for a week-long stay in the Italian city. I had been to Venice several years ago, so felt I knew a bit about the city and its famous landmarks, which is why I wasn’t so bothered about reading this memoir. I’d done the homework already, so to speak.
Broken into three sections — The People, The City, The Lagoon — Venice is not a chronological history of the city but a meandering look at its past, present and future. Nor is it a guidebook, though it does contain a mine of information about what to see and where to go.
I think The Times probably described it best when they said it was “a classic love letter to Italy’s most iconic city”, because it is, indeed, a beautiful missive dripping with exquisite descriptions. I found it an enormously engaging and evocative read by an accomplished writer who really knows how to string a simile or two together.
Venice is a cheek-by-jowl, back-of-the-hand, under-the-counter, higgledy-piggledy, anecdotal city, and she is rich in piquant wrinkled things, like an assortment of bric-a-brac in the house of a wayward connoisseur, or parasites on an oyster-shell.
There are palaces to see everywhere, and precious churches, and bridges, and pictures by the thousand, and all the criss-cross pattern of antiquity that is picturesque Venice, mocked by the materialists, sentimentalised by the Romantics, but still by any standards an astonishing phenomenon, as fruity as plum pudding, as tart as the brand that flames about its holly.
In fact the writing throughout this superb book is sublime (much like Venice itself) and I would quote entire chapters here, except it’s probably better if you just took my word for it and got hold of a copy of Venice for yourself.
It’s a beautifully written and researched book, jam-packed with anecdotes and all kinds of historical fact. Whether you have been to Venice or not, I’m sure once you have read Jan Morris’s delightful memoir you will be clammering to book your flights!