cover image The Last Supper: A Summer in Italy

The Last Supper: A Summer in Italy

Rachel Cusk, . . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24 (239pp) ISBN 978-0-374-18403-2

English novelist Cusk (Arlington Park ) delivers a relatively humorless account of traveling with her husband and two children over three warm months in Italy, from Tuscany to Naples and Rome. She was in search of beauty, because she felt afflicted by England's bland obtuseness nurtured by a cold climate and unappetizing food, and felt Italy's pull through the characters in Tintoretto's painting The Last Supper. Driving through Italy, the family (her husband is mentioned only once; thereafter he is only part of the collective “we”) stayed longest in Arezzo, a pastoral spot in eastern Tuscany, where Cusk found herself on a trail named after the 15th-century painter Piero della Francesca; she felt herself on the edge of an “ocean of knowledge” that required “complete immersion.” Armed with Vasari's Lives of the Artists , she trekked to find these early Renaissance works of art, many reproduced here (as well as the family's own picturesque snapshots) and records her sympathetic impressions; of Cimabue's tremendously moving portrait of St. Francis, she writes what could also be the artist's visionary declaration: “I am nothing. I am everything.” Her observations of the ex-pat community and foreign tourists are critical and grumpy, and the last leg, through Pompeii and Rome, feels anticlimactic. (June)