Falling Palace by Dan Hofstader

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Falling Palace by Dan Hofstader

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Category: Travel
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An evocative story of a man's love affair with the city of Naples and with the mysterious Benedetta had us laughing and crying here at Bookbag. It's hypnotic, with characters who wouldn't be out of place in a work of fiction. It's highly recommended by Bookbag.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: February 2007
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1861974501

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Just occasionally you find a book which tempts you to relax amongst the words and images, to float there, hoping it will go on forever. Falling Palace is just such a book.

Dan Hofstadter went to Naples and fell in love with the city and with a woman called Benedetta. This is the story of his relationship with both the woman and the place itself. It's a travel book without maps or pictures, but it's the ultimate proof that words paint the best, most evocative pictures. I've read travel books where I had a feeling that the writer approached the work as a task to be accomplished, a job to be done. Falling Palace is the reverse of this: it was as though Hofstadter allowed himself the luxury of writing about a place and a woman which he loved in equal measure and allowed his feelings about both to wash hypnotically over the pages.

Even before he met Benedetta there was an obvious affection for Naples and it's based on the truth of the city rather than the tourist hype. The city kept pulling him back and he lived there for prolonged periods, learning, but never mastering the local dialect and realising that gestures are all important, that the words merely elaborate on what the body is saying.

There's no gloss put on the city. The decaying seediness - the 'falling palace' of the title - is starkly presented, but the other side of the coin shows the restaurants where you might go in on your own, but you'll certainly not eat alone. Hofstadter is a New Yorker and the people of Naples regularly put him in mind of Brooklyn.

The book's populated with larger-than-life characters who would not be out of place in a work of fiction. Benedetta is vivacious, but mysterious and deeply unfathomable. Even at the end of the book Hofstadter feels that he has never really understood her. It's not just the main characters who make the book, though - it's the bit part players who all appear fully-formed. There's Signora Perna, the semi-retired architect with an interest in spiritualism who lets a room to the author, or Loredana the family friend. She regularly grills Hofstadter over the telephone but he never gets to meet her and only has one glimpse of her.

There's an understanding of the nature of the city with all its superstitions and where events can be translated into numbers which might bring a fortune from the lottery. There are a lot of people living on low incomes for whom the idea of a lottery win is their only chance of escape.

Hofstadter seemed to be at home, be accepted in Naples, but ultimately he came to realise that he could never have been one of the natives, would never have completely blended in any more than Benedetta could ever have been at home in New York, away from her family and living in an apartment with more than one entrance - a thought which terrified her.

This isn't a book to hurry. It's one to savour and linger over. I found myself rereading certain passages just for the pleasure the words gave. It's found a place at the side of the bed as something magical to pick up in the early hours of the morning when sleep has escaped. It won't make you sleep, but it will leave you feeling warm and safe.

My thanks to the publishers, Profile Books, for sending me this wonderful book.

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Buy Falling Palace by Dan Hofstader at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Falling Palace by Dan Hofstader at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Falling Palace by Dan Hofstader at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Falling Palace by Dan Hofstader at Amazon.com.


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