Ro­man ro­mance spans a day in the life of love

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

If, like mine, yours is a life that has be­come just a bit too fran­tic, The Lovers’ Guide to Rome by Aus­tralian au­thor Mark Lam­prell is a wel­come es­cape from a world of loom­ing dead­lines and too many com­mit­ments.

The in­spired ti­tle of Lam­prell’s sec­ond novel is matched by Lisa White’s fab­u­lous cover fea­tur­ing a care­free young cou­ple mak­ing the most of a shim­mer­ing day in Rome, as they reck­lessly ride their mo­tor scooter down the Span­ish Steps. The cover alone makes me want to drop ev­ery­thing and join them.

Lam­prell’s novel, which spans just one day in Rome, fol­lows the ex­ploits of three cou­ples: re­cently en­gaged Amer­i­can univer­sity stu­dent Alice who, in a chance en­counter with the mo­tor scooter-rid­ing Bri­tish stu­dent, Au­gust Clut­ter­buck, is shocked to dis­cover that love at first sight may not be a myth, af­ter all; Alec and Meg, whose 20-year mar­riage is ail­ing; and the re­cently wid­owed Con­stance who, ac­com­pa­nied by her sis­ter-in-law, Lizzie, has come to scat­ter the ashes of her late hus­band.

This heart­warm­ing story has all the mak­ings of a Hol­ly­wood rom-com, and given that Lam­prell is a screen­writer and film di­rec­tor, who knows — this may be more than idle spec­u­la­tion. What is cer­tain, how­ever, is that The Lovers’ Guide to Rome has al­ready at­tracted wide­spread at­ten­tion over­seas with rights to the book hav­ing been sold in North Amer­ica, Ger­many, The Nether­lands, Italy, Nor­way, Is­rael, Ser­bia, France, the Czech Repub­lic and Hun­gary. In­ter­est­ingly, the North Amer­i­can rights have been bought by Amy Ein­horn of Flat­iron Books who made Kathryn Stock­ett’s such a huge suc­cess.

Rome is an in­spired set­ting for this ex­plo­ration of love found, love fal­ter­ing and love lost. Lam­prell’s ex­ten­sive knowl­edge of the city and its history is clear and al­though the book is pep­pered with quirky and in­for­ma­tive anec­dotes about the city, it is to his credit that it wears the re­search lightly. In part this is achieved by the use of the “spirit of Rome’’ to nar­rate the story. Rem­i­nis­cent of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, who uses death, a kindly but ex­hausted spec­tre, as his nar­ra­tor, the spirit of Rome is a more up­beat fig­ure, as­signed to in­spire and chal­lenge the peo­ple within the city. This could be a risky move but, by not overus­ing the de­vice, Lam­prell man­ages to pull it off.

Un­usual nar­ra­tive choices are not new to Lam­prell. His first novel, The Full Ridicu­lous — which was short­listed for the Rus­sell Prize for Hu­mour Writ­ing, and which has also sold in sev­eral over­seas ter­ri­to­ries — is nar­rated not in the first or third per­son but in the sec­ond per­son. Lam­prell has con­ceded that, while an odd choice, it was an ef­fec­tive way to speed up the nar­ra­tive and de­liver the ur­gency it re­quired.

The Lovers’ Guide to Rome is a more leisurely read and the spirit of Rome de­liv­ers a thought­ful­ness to a mov­ing and en­ter­tain­ing story.

Hu­mour is one of Lam­prell’s great strengths The Help and his de­scrip­tion of the on­set of young love, its awk­ward­ness and its in­se­cu­rity, is beau­ti­ful and hi­lar­i­ous. Par­tic­u­larly suc­cess­ful is Lam­prell’s de­pic­tion of the in­ter­nal voice of the love­struck Au­gust as he strug­gles to con­tain his de­sire for Alice: “He felt his crotch stir again and beg­ging it not to make a spec­ta­cle of it­self, tried to re­mem­ber when his dog died.”

Co­in­ci­dences abound in this story in which an ex­tra­or­di­nary num­ber of events take place in one day. Were Lam­prell not such an ef­fec­tive and com­pelling sto­ry­teller, it might seem too much. In­stead, he takes us with him, forc­ing us to ac­cept what he would have us be­lieve, from an un­ex­pected kid­nap­ping to an un­usual num­ber of co­in­ci­den­tal meet­ings and the un­likely re­cov­ery of a lost me­mento.

The au­thor is a keen ob­server of peo­ple and his de­scrip­tion of the peo­ple who sur­round his char­ac­ters is clear, vivid and funny. The streets were teem­ing with tourists on their way home from din­ner and Ro­mans on their way to din­ner. Half of them were pound­ing the pave­ment in sen­si­ble ny­lo­nand-elas­tane-blend travel pants and the other half were tee­ter­ing in haute cou­ture. Lam­prell’s cre­den­tials as a screen­writer and di­rec­tor serve him well in. His writ­ing is al­ways

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