This Most Amazing
Dahlia Conti, an Italian-American poet and academic in modern-day Milwaukee, falls in love with an artist, Jonas. Her story is spliced with that of Vincenzo, a conscript serving in Napoleon’s Italian campaign, who, in 1797, deserts to return home to his Apennine village.
Dahlia begins to have a series of increasingly violent and erotic dreams and out-of-body experiences that seem to connect her to Vincenzo and his world. Sometimes, she is an observer, but at others she feels she becomes him or those close to him. The novel charts her struggle to come to terms with the time-slips and to understand how her life connects to these past events, especially after her work takes her to Italy.
There are parts of the novel, especially Vincenzo’s story, that read with great lyricism; however, at times the allusion and imagery feel forced, and some of the modern scenes in particular have a certain awkwardness, with sentences seeming stilted and the dialogue over-explanatory. The mechanics of the writing show through and there is the odd lapse into cliché (yes, someone does feel the earth move!).
For me, the novel’s opening sentences, although certainly arresting, were dangerously close to parody. Unfortunately, if I had been browsing in a bookshop, this would have gone straight back on the shelf at that point, which is a shame, because of in spite of its faults, this is a story that has the power to move in its exploration of lost love, and love found, of what it means to be home and how we may be connected to past lives.