My Venice and Other Essays by Donna Leon
Being a huge fan of Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries set in Venice, I jumped at the chance to be able to review this book of essays. As I expected, it did not disappoint. This collection of fifty essays gives insight into her thoughts and emotions on a range of subjects, all delivered with superb writing style. The essays range in length from 2 pages to 11, with most of them on the shorter side. They are divided into six sections: Venice, Music, Man and Animals, Men, America and Books.
In the longest section, Venice, her pieces cover a wide range of topics that in the aggregate give a glimpse into the joys and frustrations of living there. She begins with exploring why the lack of cars is a blessing, but not from the lack of noise and exhaust. She vents her frustration on trying to rehabilitate an apartment, on noisy neighbors, dog excrement and tourists. But make no mistake, her love of her adopted city shines through.
The Music pieces make me wish that I knew more about opera so I could appreciate her love of it. The Man and Animals essays range from her fondness for moles, her attempts to rid her mountain house of dormice, her hatred of hunters to her first time eating a sheep’s eyeball.
The section on Men contains strong statements on the problems she sees in male behaviors of violence, especially towards women. The story of her time teaching in Saudi Arabia is one of the longer essays, and it is clear she had a terrible experience. However, she is careful to point out that her bad experience was not due to Arabs or Islam but the structure of society in that particular place and time.
America and its culture also come in for some criticism for our obesity epidemic and the increasing “fear” syndrome that she sees affecting her homeland. However, other essays in this section tell warm tales of family and growing up.
As a lover of her novels, the final series of essays on Books contains an illuminating longer essay on writing crime novels, which will definitely inform my future reading. This section also tells of a luncheon with Barbara Vine (aka Ruth Rendell) where they discuss various ways of dispatching victims.
Order in Bibz.