cover image Palmerino


Melissa Pritchard. Bellevue Literary (Consortium, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-934137-68-0

Violet Paget, who wrote under the name Vernon Lee, is now largely forgotten, but in the Victorian era, she was a well-known intellectual, writer, and eccentric (she wore men’s clothes and was likely a lesbian) who palled around with the likes of Henry James and John Singer Sargent. Palmerino, Paget’s house outside Florence, is the site of Pritchard’s (The Odditorium) novel and the place where Sylvia, a writer of historical fiction whose last books did poorly and whose husband has just left her, has come to write about Paget. Increasingly engrossed in her subject—she is even, it comes to seem, haunted and possessed by her—Sylvia tries to imagine the intimate details of the relationships between Paget and the women she loved. The book toggles between the past and the present, between Sylvia’s more biographical efforts and her more novelistic ones and her waning connection to present-day life. Pritchard focuses on the complexities of love and the limits and possibilities of empathetic imagination, but while the Italian setting is deftly handled, the extra layers of story, notwithstanding the supernatural touches, don’t add enough, and the book never achieves the synthesis it needs to carry weight as a novel rather than as a sympathetic précis of Paget’s life. (Jan.)