Fiction – paperback; Anchor Books; 304 pages; 2004.
I am not a great fan of the short story, but I made an exception for this collection, because of its setting. It’s no secret that I have a soft spot for Venice, so, when I found Jane Turner Rylands’ Venetian Stories in a local charity shop I snapped it up, took it home and then spent the next six months reading it very, very slowly.
All the stories — there are 12 in total and each is about 20 pages long — are set in the watery city. They are told from the perspective of the residents, whether new or old, Italian or foreign, rich or poor. Some are even interlinked, but this is done in such a subtle manner that it’s not immediately obvious and, to be honest, I wouldn’t have even picked this up if it wasn’t for the blurb telling me this was the case.
In fact, subtle is the key word here, as the entire collection seems to lack any great impact. There’s no “wow” factor in these stories, but they are pleasing and effortless to read, if slightly fey in places. They supposedly provide an insight into real Venetian lives, but I have my doubts because many of the people portrayed here are downright snobs, corrupt or stupid.
There’s also a decidedly American feel to everything, which is no great surprise given the author is an expat American. But what concerned me most was the condescending prose style adopted by Turner Rylands; there’s no greater turn off than being talked down to, as if I could not possibly be as well travelled or as well connected as the author.
In my humble opinion, Venetian Stories is not a great collection and has done nothing to make me reassess my usual distaste for the short story, but if you love Venice and consider yourself an armchair traveller you just might enjoy it.