Novel of the week: Whereabouts
An ‘oddly compelling’ study of estrangement in 46 vignettes, by Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri is “one of the most interesting American writers at work today”, said Lucy Atkins in The Sunday Times. Her early work, written in English, won just about every prize going. Then in 2011, she “packed up her family and moved to Rome” – determined to learn to speak and write Italian “like a native”. Nearly ten years on, we have, in Whereabouts, her first novel written in Italian (though now translated into English by Lahiri herself). A short, spare account of a “solitary middle-aged woman wandering around an anonymous city”, it’s an “oddly compelling” study of estrangement.
The novel is composed of 46 vignettes, many not obviously about very much, said Anthony Cummins in The Observer. The narrator swims and gets her nails done; she flirts (and goes underwear shopping) with a friend’s husband. While there’s a “peculiar magnetism” to the novel’s mix of “candour and coyness”, its “hypnotically surgical gleam can verge on bleached sterility”. Lahiri’s Italy seems to “be a blank canvas” – and it may not be a place that, as a writer, she “can profitably stay long”.
Bloomsbury 176pp £14.99; The Week Bookshop £11.99
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