Charlotte has won the scholarship of her dreams, to spend her summer in Venice with a writer’s group under the tutelage of one of her favorite authors, Luca Bruni. Things are more complicated than they first appear when she arrives, however. Luca is mercurial and flirty and quick to temper. They all want his approval – as well as his contacts, his recommendation, his good word put in for their writing – but where does the line get drawn? How far is Charlotte willing to go to make it in the publishing world, and can she really trust in her own talent when the person praising her is the same one who wants more in return?
This is a story of powerful men who wield that power over the people under them, particularly women. It’s not a spoiler to say that Luca Bruni is a lecherous man who uses his influence to seduce younger women who desperately want to break into the writing world. While Charlotte may not have seen that from the very first chapter, it’s very clear to the reader that that’s what this book is going to be about. We’re not talking about flat-out black-and-white sexual assault. We’re talking careful manipulation, grooming, these young women in their late teens and early twenties trying to walk the line between not angering their mentor but also not letting him get too close. We’re talking about the way different people react when such allegations come to light, and the way powerful men get away with so much, while the women they destroy become tarnished and hated if they speak out. We’re talking about the way some women choose to acquiesce to those powerful men’s desires in order to advance their career, and how such acquiescence is seen as determination or grit, rather than for the true assault that it is.
Running through this story is those of creative women who have been silenced through the centuries. Thrown into convents, killed by lovers, art and words stolen and claimed by men. The novel feels like a treatise on the oppression of women, wrapped in the vulnerability of one young woman’s heart. It’s beautifully written, and incredibly powerful, and definitely could be triggering to some people. Absolutely wonderful read that, as usual for Caletti, ripped me to pieces inside.