cover image Blue Hunger

Blue Hunger

Viola Di Grado, trans. from Italian by Jamie Richards. Bloomsbury, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-1-63557-949-9

Di Grado (Hollow Heart) delivers a sensuous and biting account of a young woman from Rome who, in the throes of grief, leaves home to teach Italian in Shanghai, where she falls in lust with a student at the language school. The unnamed narrator’s recently deceased twin brother had long dreamed to open an Italian restaurant in China; there, she thinks more of him than of herself. She dwells in a part of the city called the French Concession, land that had been apportioned in 1849 as a port of call for Westerners. It’s an apt setting for the liminal, vaguely transactional relationship between the habitually acquiescent narrator and Xu, a beautiful former model and a bit of a sadist (“Her touch,” Di Grado writes, “was stiff and imperious, like the pat you reward a dog with for staying put”). The book offers many of the pleasures of a Mary Gaitskill sex romp, though the author’s wearying reliance on vulgarity for the sake of edginess and pervading sense of dire emptiness don’t help distinguish it from current erotic obsession novels. Still, it’s worth indulging in this visceral story about a woman’s difficulty with finding satisfaction, sexual and otherwise. Agent: Sandra Pareja, Casanovas & Lynch. (Mar.)