The Venice Adriana – Ethan Mordden
There is an awfully good reason, it turns out, why this is among Mordden’s least known books: It is dull. Just as dull as you’d expect it to be to listen to a gaggle of egocentric neurotics talk about (and talk about and talk about) themselves. In fact, what fails utterly about the novel is that so much of it is one long, uneventful conversation after another—and by uneventful, I mean simply that all that talk neither moves the plot forward nor aids in character development, and the participants are not (by a very long shot) interesting enough to keep you turning pages just for the transcendental joy of reading their bons mots.
Mordden’s command of Italian, meanwhile, isn’t nearly as good as he thinks it is, and his portrait of Vieri, a sort of grown-up Tadzio, one supposes (and the protagonist’s love interest, though I would defy anyone to explain why – Vieri is cute, but he’s an idiot; but then again, so is Mark Trigger, the “hero” of the piece), is an insult to Italians. (Yes, folks, Italian men ARE all bisexual. How’s that for meaningful cross-cultural insight?)
The nucleus of the novel, the Greek opera diva, Adriana Grafanas, is broad. In all senses of the word. If Grafanas is meant to be a mock-Callas, her psychodramas are tired and her tantrums are not delicious enough to be called temperamental. No, all Grafanas is, is an over-privileged brat. Callas was a piece of work, but at least she was interesting.
There’s tons of opera talk in the book (flawless if you’re into it, deadly if you’re not), but Mordden always writes about opera as if he’s aiming several feet above your head because, let’s face it, you’re not special enough to know what he’s talking about—a larf, actually, when one considers the Incredibly Shrinking Audience for opera and the fact that there’s essentially been no new repertoire for nearly a century. How rarefied does the air have to get before we all drop dead for lack of oxygen?
I’m not sure where Venice Adriana falls in the line of Mordden’s so to say oeuvre, but it feels very early and very amateurish. He’s a great writer; go find something else of his to read and let this one sink into a nice, dignified oblivion.