Cover image for Italian fever : a novel
Italian fever : a novel
Martin, Valerie.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1999.
Physical Description:
259 pages ; 22 cm
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A secluded Tuscan villa, a mysterious death, a missing manuscript, a whiff of a ghost, and a smart young American woman tumbling helplessly into an unexpected affair--these are the ingredients of this beguiling and acutely observed new novel by the author ofMary Reilly. Lucy Stark--clever, pragmatic, capable--is the assistant to a best-selling but remarkably untalented writer named DV, who has spent the last several months in Tuscany searching for inspiration. One morning in Brooklyn, as Lucy sits at her desk reluctantly reading the first half of DV's latest novel, she receives a startling phone call: DV is dead, and the circumstances are suspicious. Soon Lucy finds herself in Italy, where her search for the rest of DV's manuscript leads her into the thick of various mysteries. Was DV murdered, or just the victim of his own stupidity? Was the ghost story he was writing pure fantasy, or did it hint at a darker reality? Is the devastating, married Massimo, who cares for Lucy in ways no one has before, as dangerously in love with her as she is with him? Part mystery, part romance, part meditation on the maddening but redemptive power of art,Italian Feveris a supremely satisfying novel: a funny, insightful portrait of the American abroad, and an irresistible exploration of our perpetual love affair with Italy.

Author Notes

Valerie Martin is the author of six novels & two collections of short fiction, including "Italian Fever", "The Great Divorce", & "Mary Reilly". She lived in Italy for three years & now resides in upstate New York.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

For eight years, Lucy Stark has worked as assistant to the commercially successful but remarkably untalented writer known as DV, who has spent the past five months living and writing at a secluded villa in Italy. Just as Lucy is beginning to transcribe the unfinished manuscript sent by DV, she receives the unexpected news of his sudden death under suspicious circumstances. The villa and the few people DV was in contact with are described in the manuscript, so when Lucy travels to Italy to arrange DV's funeral, much seems familiar. But the more she learns about his life in Italy, the more things are revealed to be not at all as DV described them. What has happened to DV's lover, the beautiful artist Catherine? Is there truly a ghost in the villa? And what are the actual circumstances surrounding DV's death? The smart, capable, and take-charge Lucy is rendered suddenly and completely helpless by a severe flu-like illness, owing her survival and recovery to the tender ministrations of Massimo, the charming driver-interpreter whose attention goes far beyond duty. The more involved Lucy gets, the more things are revealed to be not as she originally perceived them, and she eventually learns that when the heart is open, the eyes see things very differently. This is a deeply satisfying novel: superbly written, juicy, and thick with intrigue and mystery. Martin is the author of Mary Reilly (1990) and several other novels. (Reviewed March 15, 1999)0375405429Grace Fill

Publisher's Weekly Review

The reality-distorting fever that afflicts the i-dotting, t-crossing Lucy StarkÄa plainish Brooklyn woman who finds herself embroiled in the creepy intrigues of the aristocratic Cini familyÄenvelops her mere days after she arrives in northern Italy, and barely breaks before this upmarket gothic novel comes to closure. Lucy's delirium makes her likely to misinterpret all the things that go bump in the night, and yet when the lights come on at the novel's end, nearly all the ghouls shrink into shadows. In Tuscany on rather strange businessÄher employer, a popular and formulaic fiction writer named DV, has drunkenly met his death by falling down a well on the Cini propertyÄLucy becomes suspicious of the Cinis' byzantine ways and their dodginess on the subject of the American painter Catherine Bultman, whom Lucy assumed had been living as DV's lover in the house he rented on the Cini grounds. With her temperature steadily rising, Lucy rifles through DV's belongings and finds an amorous letter to Catherine, written in Italian and signed Antonio. Thinking she has uncovered a valuable clueÄAntonio is the name of the seedy scion of the Cini lineÄLucy begins to make more pointed inquiries about Catherine's whereabouts and the circumstances of her departure. She is waylaid in her investigation by her illness, however, and by the equally damaging and consuming affair she begins with the married Roman hunk named Massimo who nurses her back to health. Besides being a born-again passionate, Lucy is an art enthusiast; Martin's knowledge of iconography and hagiography adds an intellectual dimension to the romantic plot. Martin also describes the food in Tuscany and Rome luxuriouslyÄif sometimes with a hungry street urchin's obsessive care. With a few ghosts, several acts of love and numerous jibes at self-indulgent writers of the DV school, the sophisticated romantic adventure is rendered with stylish flair. Martin controls the narrative momentum smoothly and recounts her tale with occasional wryness and engaging enthusiasm. 50,000 first printing. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The author who employs Lucy Stark has died mysteriously in Italy, and Lucy sets out to discover what happened to himÄand the manuscript he left behind. Knopf president Sonny Mehta is really behind this one. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One "Oh, for god's sake," Lucy exclaimed. "It's a ghost story." She dropped the page she was reading onto the smaller of the two stacks that filled every inch of the available space on her cluttered desk. This manuscript, the first half of DV's latest novel, had arrived from Italy the day before. The package was tattered and stained, the postmark a month old. Why had DV shipped it by sea mail? In preparation for the labor of transcribing it onto the computer, Lucy had passed the morning reading it, experiencing, as she always did when confronted by her employer's contributions to the world of letters, a steady elevation of blood pressure and an involuntary clenching of the jaw that made her face ache. The page she took up next was as covered over with scratches, lines, and mysterious explosions of ink as an aerial photograph of a war zone. Why, she wondered, did it take such an effort for DV to write so poorly?         Under different names, in different settings, the narrators of DV's novels were all the same man: a self-absorbed, pretentious bore, always involved in a tragic but passionate relationship with a neurotic, artistic, beautiful woman, always caught up in some far-fetched rescue adventure, dipping occasionally into the dark underworld of thugs and hired murderers, or rising to the empyrean abodes, the glittering palaces of the wealthy and the elite. The whole absurd mess was glazed over with a sticky treacle of trite homilies and tributes by the narrator to himself for being so strong and wise and brave when everyone around him was scarcely able to get out of bed. He was usually a writer or a journalist; sometimes he traveled. When he traveled, he was always recovering from an emotional crisis and he was always alone. This time, his name was Malcolm Manx, described by himself in the early pages as "an American writer of some reputation." Devastated by the breakup of a passionate but tragic marriage, he has secluded himself in a villa in Tuscany, where he hopes to find peace, inspiration, and a renewed interest in life.         Lucy placed her frog paperweight carefully on the pages and stalked off to the kitchen. To read on, she would need a cup of herbal tea, a glass of water, and two aspirin. The book was awful. DV's books were always awful, but what made this one worse than the others was the introduction of a new element, which was bound to boost sales: There was a ghost in the villa. DV had gone gothic. It wasn't enough that the unsuspecting Italians must succumb to the bold and original charms of the devastated American writer; now he was haranguing the dead as well.         The ghost was the restless spirit of a dead Resistance fighter, a partisan, ambushed by fascist forces in the yard of his own estate. This dead warrior, mirabile dictu, shared with Malcolm Manx both a staunch love of liberty and an ancestor from the rugged Basque country. The presence of such a soul mate, a comrade, stomping through the family olive groves in search of peace and old-world wisdom had so excited the murdered partisan that he got right out of his grave, and now he was wandering around pointing at things, always in the dead of night, when everyone was asleep, everyone but Malcolm Manx, who was up and struggling with the big, hard questions of life and art.         For reasons Lucy usually tried not to think about, DV's books sold well. A few had been made into movies, and DV was encouraged by everyone around him to write more. Reviews were rare, however, and seldom favorable, which galled him, but he had learned to take satisfaction in the size of his bank account.         Through eight years and five novels, Lucy Stark had worked for DV. He never asked her what she thought of his books and she never told him. She was, in his phrase, "the assistant," or sometimes, more accurately, "the office." She kept track of everything, made sure he didn't see the worst reviews, kept his ex-wives at bay, handled his mail, supervised the flow in and out of large sums of money, and transcribed every word of his wretched prose from the tattered, indecipherable pages he sent her to the computer he had never learned to use.         In the early years, she had tried to straighten out some of his worst sentences; she had balked when a mixed metaphor strained to include a fourth incongruent element, but those days were gone. DV had complained to his editor, Stanton Cutler, who had called Lucy and explained, politely but firmly, that she must restrain her no doubt rightful enthusiasm. "Just think of it as a draft," he suggested.         Armed with her tea, dosed with painkillers, Lucy returned to her desk and took up the page that had driven her from the room. A dark and brooding figure beckoned him eerily on the moonlit drive, and Malcolm felt his burning blood turn to ice in his veins.         "Jesus," Lucy said.                  The phone rang. She dropped the page, reached over the lamp, caught the teacup in the cuff of her sweater, and watched in horror as the tea spilled out across the manuscript. Bringing the receiver to her ear with one hand, she lifted the soaking page with the other and tried to funnel the hot liquid into the wastebasket. The tea poured out across the carpet.         "Lucy Stark, please?" a woman's voice inquired.                  "This is she."                  "American embassy in Rome calling. Please hold."                  And in the next moment, as she knelt beside her desk, blotting at the tea stains with a page of newsprint hastily torn from last week's book review, a hostile, disembodied male voice came on the line and gave her the astonishing news that DV was dead. Excerpted from Italian Fever by Valerie Martin All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.