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The Evening of the Holiday by Shirley…
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The Evening of the Holiday (1966)

by Shirley Hazzard

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I felt as if I was looking for direction in this book. I couldn’t work out in the first half or so where Hazzard was wanting to take the reader. Was this a sort of Forster-like unfolding of the clash between the Italian and English temperaments? What were we meant to feel about Sophie? Was Hazzard commenting on aspects of society? I wasn’t sure.

I liked the way she quite forthrightly damned the absurdity of the festival in the place where Sophie was saying as all the towns-people celebrated a battle that they had lost, dressing up in medieval costumes and brandishing ancient weapons, ‘all magnificent in array, austere in expression, unshakable in purposelessness’. The way she builds up that sentence only to end it with the reversal at the end makes the condemnation all the more effective.

Perhaps some of my uncertainty about the direction of the book comes from what seems to be autobiographical detail, whether the description of the stone parapet of the Lungaro being ‘exactly the right height for leaning’ or the way ‘the telephone a shattering few terminal cries’ when she replaced the receiver in her hotel. These sort of details made me wonder how far Sophie was Hazzard and how far the author was crafting her story. Why, for example, does Hazzard give us what Tancredi was wearing on one of their outings: ‘cotton trousers and a blue shirt’? I don’t think this adds anything. On the other hand the description of the hands everyone had out in front of them at the table in Nestore’s house seemed much more meaningful, used by Hazzard not just to differentiate between the cosseted lifestyle of Sophie whose hands are described last: ‘shapely and soft, the nails carefully painted’ but between the rural workers themselves, if only to distinguish what sort of hard work they did: ‘Nestore’s, almost as broad as they were long; Filomena’s and Nelda’s, reddened and not realy in repose, stealing an unaccustomed holiday’.

This, of course, was the first of Hazzard’s four novels. She was 35 when this was published in 1966, a time of significant change in young people’s outlooks but she had grown up in a much more conventional time and so I wonder both what influence her up and the contemporary scene made to the way she wrote this book. Perhaps, in fact, she had been immuned to the social changes in the sixties since she seems to have made the separation of Tancredi (always referred to by his surname?) and Sophie inevitable, the result of the illegality of divorce in Italy as well as social expectations even though, Sophie, harking from England, would hardly have been condemned then. We are left, then, with tying to work out how Hazzard wants us to feel about the couple’s separation – and I’m afraid I was left nonplussed, having been uninvolved in either of them, and I can’t think of any way in which Hazzard tried to engage the reader with them. This was a novel whose success relied on her effective style and an intellectual appraisal of the situation rather than on a more emotional response. ( )
  evening | Aug 13, 2015 |
From the cover - Sophie, half English, half Italian, meets Tancredi, an Italian who is separated from his wife and family. In telling the story of their love affair, Shirley Hazzard punctures the placid surface of polite Italian society to reveal the intense yearnings and surprising responses in sophisticated people caught up in emotions they do not always understand.
I found this an undemanding read during a busy week, but enjoyed how the author's use of language created credible, flawed characters and how they dealt with the conflicting emotions they experienced. ( )
  HelenBaker | Mar 11, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312423268, Paperback)

In the words of Time magazine, “A near perfect novel...a small masterpiece” by the author of The Great Fire

Passionate undercurrents sweep in and out of this eloquent novel about a love affair in a summer countryside in Italy and its inevitable end. It takes place in a setting of pastoral beauty during a time of celebration--a festival.

Sophie, half English, half Italian, meets Tancredi, an Italian who is separated from his wife and family. In telling the story of their love affair, Shirley Hazzard punctures the placid surface of polite Italian society to reveal the intense yearnings and surprising responses in sophisticated people caught up in emotions they do not always understand.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:13 -0400)

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This is a novel about a love affair in the summer countryside in Italy and its inevitable end. It reveals the yearnings and responses in people caught up in emotions.

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