My rating: 5/10
This was a really quick read, so I’ll give it a really quick review.
Seventeen-year-old Phillipa, “Pippa”, is a ballet dancer in a British troupe visiting Venice. Über-talented both in dance and voice, Pippa has led the sheltered life of a cloistered and protected performing arts student, so her first trip abroad, and to romantic Venice at that, finds her wide-eyed and naïve. She immediately encounters a handsome young gondolier, and falls deeply in love. He is attracted in turn, but his motivations are slightly different than purely romantic.
In the meantime, Pippa’s ballet mistress has become infatuated with her, leading to much scheming and heartache and culminating in an attempted lesbian rape scene; a bit of a shocker from this particular author, but in retrospect not all that surprising; Rumer Godden was never shy of acknowledging the power of sex and using it as a motivator for her characters over the years; I think that the fairly graphic incident here is merely the well-experienced 87-year-old author keeping up with the times.
This was Godden’s second to last published novel before her death in 1998, and while not one of her top-rank tales it is certainly competently written and acceptable as a light read. Don’t expect another House of Brede, though! This one is fluff straight through.
Very nice evocation of Venice; as usual Godden handles her setting with great skill.
Weakest point, aside from the rather lame plot, is that the characters are all quite one-dimensional. We are continually told that Pippa is wonderfully talented and oh-so-special; we must take the author at her word as we never really get too close to Pippa herself. Things seem to happen just a little too easily throughout; there is a lot of glossing over of motivations and actions. This almost feels like a moderately fleshed-out outline of what could perhaps be a much longer and more interesting story.
I wouldn’t recommend this novel as anything but a momentary diversion. It definitely belongs in a Godden collection, and is interesting enough to have limited re-read status, but it really isn’t up to the standard of some of Godden’s masterworks. As I’ve said before, Godden had a great range in her stories; this is on the pallid end of the spectrum. Still better than some of the present-day chick lit I’ve attempted, so extra points for that. Even at her worst, Godden is still good. If you can get this one cheap, take it to the beach, but don’t forget to tuck something else in your bag as well, because slight little Pippa, at less than 200 pages, will pass by very quickly!