Barry Unsworth | Critical Review by Miranda Schwartz

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of Barry Unsworth.
This section contains 529 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Miranda Schwartz

Critical Review by Miranda Schwartz

SOURCE: "Meet the Neighbors," in Chicago Tribune Books, March 9, 1997, p. 4.

In the following review, Schwartz finds the characterizations in After Hannibal particularly intriguing and rewarding to the reader.

After Hannibal, the latest novel from Booker Prize-winner Barry Unsworth (Morality Play, Sacred Hunger), is a deliciously keen observation of strangers in a strange land, deliciously keen observation of strangers in a strange land. Unsworth reminds the reader of Muriel Spark and Barbara Pym; he shares their understated wit and their talent for clean and stylish description. This contemporary novel even owes debt to E. M. Forster in its portrayal of foreigners at sea in Italy. While Forster may go deeper into the minds of his creations, Unsworth seems to have more fun gleefully setting his characters loose on one another and recounting the ensuing havoc: marriages broken, alliances formed, houses destroyed, secrets unburied.

Unsworth's people live near Perugia's Lake Trasimeno, on a small neighborhood road about which he writes, "the important thing, really, about roads like this, is not where they end but the lives they touch on the way." The inhabitants along this road include a comically mismatched British couple, two gay Italians, a slightly naive American couple and an Italian medievalist whose wife has just left him.

As Unsworth explores the lives touched by this road, he slowly reveals the background of his characters—the detours made, the signposts missed. He is not above poking a bit of fun at his creations ("He was given to the counting of blessings, which in practice meant the listing of assets"), yet they are durable enough to retain a measure of dignity and realism.

Unsworth is most intrigued by the relations between incompatible couples—the constant give and take, the outpourings of the soul versus the lies of omission—all exemplified perfectly here by the supremely incompatible Brits: Harold is a money-grubber feigning refinement, while Cecilia is a dreamy, poetic soul; the tracks of their inner lives will never merge. The gay couple are ill-matched as well, the older man oblivious to his lover's restlessness and duplicity.

The only good, happy people are the Greens, retired American art teachers who, like the abstracted Cecilia, truly appreciate the beautiful Italian landscape and the timeless inheritance of the great Renaissance artists. But the Greens' happiness in themselves, their newly purchased villa and the country is threatened by a dishonest English building supervisor who preys upon newcomers to Italy.

Only one individual rises above the hodgepodge of life—Mancini, a lawyer consulted by the neighbors as they thread their way through treacherous attachments and feuds. Serene and sagacious, he has a hand in every pot bubbling in Perugia and its outskirts; he knows everyone and divines all motivations.

At first Unsworth cloaks Mancini in mystery: It's uncertain if he is desirous of helping the good and thwarting the bad, or merely a detached and amused observer—and much hangs on this tantalizing question. But thankfully, the cagey Mancini is a seeker after both inner beauty and outer order; he serves as a kind of spiritual-legal traffic cop on the road of life. With his guidance, the characters begin to see a path out of the chaos in and around them.

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This section contains 529 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Miranda Schwartz
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