It's the last day of the Oh Comely Book Club. We'd like to thank Penguin Classics for helping to make this happen. They're like a well-read friend who always has a good book to recommend.
Liz Ann Bennet was pretty confident that this Italian erotic novel would leave her joyless, but has been happily proved wrong. Here's how she's finding it:
I haven't finished The Art of Joy by Goliarda Sapienza yet. It's nearly 700 pages, and I haven't read anything that long since I was obsessed with The Lord of the Rings ten years ago.
Besides, I knew by page 15 that this wasn't going to be my sort of book. An early scene depicts our heroine Modesta, who is on the cusp of puberty, being raped by a man who claims to be her father. I have nothing against uncomfortable scenes, but this was so soon in the story. It felt tone-setting and gratuitous.
But sometimes the things you know ain't so, and I am now on page 260 and thoroughly enjoying the book. Set in 20th-century Sicily, Modesta grows up to be a masterful manipulator and killer. Yet she is a seductive personality and the inside of her head is a fascinating place to be. Sapienza handles Modesta's bisexuality with a refreshing deftness, and I've rarely read such an absorbing and convincing account of personal growth and change. It's no Fifty Shades.
What did you think, fellow readers? How far have you got?
And, as the book club finishes, I'd also like to hear about books that pleasantly surprised you. Being immersed in the unexpected is what makes reading so special.
Here's a review by Kirstin Papworth, who also blogged it here. We give Kirstin a round of applause for completing this in time.
I read the first half of the book fairly quickly. It was gripping, intriguing and unsettling. The structure reminded me of Jane Eyre, as the protagonist Modesta recounted her early memories of childhood and led the reader through her adolescence to her adulthood as, like Jane, a strong, capable woman. Yet The Art of Joy is almost an anti-Victorian novel, an inverted Jane Eyre.
Modesta's early experiences involve sadistic masturbation to the screams of her sister and sex with a stranger who claims to be her father. Even a decade spent in a convent doesn't transform Modesta into the chaste, obedient woman she's meant behave like. But The Art of Joy isn't the typical 'fallen woman' storyline like Madame Bovary. Modesta acquires wealth, an education and status, without giving up her sexual adventures with men and women.
I read the entire novel and really enjoyed it, but thought that it was a bit too long. Modesta was a really strong and likeable character, but other characters felt two dimensional in comparison, as if they were cameo roles to indulge her as a femme fatale. This might be because I got a bit bored of the plot and skim read the last 300 pages! With incestuous relationships continuing through the novel's fifty year span and numerous characters having nicknames, I got lost in a web of characters who may or may not have been related to each other. Unfortunately Sparknotes wasn't able to help me out either!
Reader Photos: Teri Polson and Kirstin Papworth. / Read more at Penguin Classics.