15 July 2017

Ivan Calbérac: Venise n'est pas en Italie (2015)

It's hardly surprising that Ivan Calbérac's first novel, Venise n'est pas en Italie, reads like a young adult publication as it's taken from the fictional diary of the fifteen-year-old protagonist Émile: not that that in any way suggests inferiority because Calbérac really skilfully puts us inside an adolescent's head. The humour (and there's a great deal of it) is provided by Émile's rather crazy family and Émile's own attempts to escape from embarrassing situations.

And there are many of those. Essentially this is the story of two star-crossed lovers, not (as with Romeo and Juliet) simply born into the wrong family because of rivalry, but because born into different classes. Émile's father is a travelling salesman and the family live in a caravan pending building a house; Pauline, though, lives in a palace in comparison and her father leads an orchestra. What chance has Émile in all this, especially when he visits Pauline at her parents and arrives with a hole in his sock so decides to go barefoot?

Only at the end will Émile discover the truth of Pauline's huge love for him, but before that her family invite him to Venice to a concert with them, then have to change their minds when cousins decide to stay in the hotel suite with them. Before that though Émile's family have invited themselves to a nearby campsite, so what swerves from another potentially deeply embarrassing experience means that Émile can still go to the concert and see Pauline.

But he misses her and she finds her way to the campsite anyway, and imagine that, she finds Émile's parents fascinating, down to earth, totally unlike she own intensely stodgy mother and father. So things are turning out all right? Uh-uh: Pauline's father appears on the scene, is disgusted by the sight, and Émile returns to a Pauline-free school. First loves can be heartbreaking.

Oh, and the title? Why isn't Venice in Italy? Because it's a state of mind, and also the title of a song by Serge Reggiani, meaning it's anywhere you're happy.

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