If you have read Ian Seed’s poetic narratives/vignettes before [and you can read two reviews and reflections of his previous work here] you will know what to expect. And if you have read his work before you will know that you should not expect.
Italian Lessons fulfils such certainty and uncertainty. This is a short but complete story, and diverges from the randomness, surprises [absurd, comic or disturbing] and dislocations of place and experience that feature in the vignettes readers of his work will be used to. The setting in Italy is, however, familiar, as is the graceful simplicity of description and setting of tone. The mysterious, as thematic echo, is far less evident as this reflection on a ‘young Englishman’s first weeks of living, working and falling in love in a foreign country’ is quite conventional as storytelling.
But there are shifts in time and shifts in mood and shifts in what we as readers might expect and/or hope will happen. As with his other writing, that is for the reader to experience rather than reviewer to reveal.
As the blurb tells us, this is a ‘bittersweet’ tale and I think it is most apt as summation of mood. Characters are quickly sketched but real and worth caring about, especially their engagements with one another, as with Anna and our first person narrator Ian – so there is this personal anchoring. Elements of the spoken broken English, the teaching of English, and the spoken Italian with, thankfully, repeated English translations have a simple but affecting way of establishing a natural and authentic setting.
It is a warming read at one sitting of absorbed and gentle empathy for the experiences we have when younger and which define us.
Italian Lessons is published by Like This Press. It is worth mentioning because with this small private press there is and always has been a production ethic, and that is for ‘publishing high quality, beautifully designed, and largely handmade books that do things just a little bit differently’ which I fully endorse – earlier publications included boxed editions, for example Rupert Loydell’s Tower of Babel, still available, with postcard paintings inside the box with its poems. Italian Lessons is a ‘hand-bound paperback with French folds’ and recommended, obviously, to read and have both as pleasingly palpable experience and object.
For more details and to order, go here.