The Italian Teacher: A Review

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Rome, 1955

The artists are gathering together for a photograph. In one of Rome’s historic villas, a party is bright with near-genius, shaded by the socialite patrons of their art. Bear Bavinsky, creator of vast, masculine, meaty canvases, is their god. Larger than life, muscular in both figure and opinion, he blazes at art criticism and burns half his paintings. He is at the centre of the picture. His wife, Natalie, edges out of the shot.

From the side of the room watches little Pinch – their son. At five years old he loves Bear almost as much as he fears him. After Bear abandons their family, Pinch will still worship him, striving to live up to the Bavinsky name; while Natalie, a ceramicist, cannot hope to be more than a forgotten muse. Trying to burn brightly under his father’s shadow – one of the twentieth century’s fiercest and most controversial painters – Pinch’s attempts flicker and die. Yet by the end of a career of twists and compromises, Pinch will enact an unexpected rebellion that will leave forever his mark upon the Bear Bavinsky legacy.

What makes an artist? In The Italian Teacher, Tom Rachman displays a nuanced understanding of twentieth-century art and its demons, vultures and chimeras. Moreover, in Pinch he achieves a portrait of painful vulnerability and realism: talent made irrelevant by personality. Stripped of egotism, authenticity or genius, Pinch forces us to face the deep held fear of a life lived in vain.

Admittedly, I entered this particular Goodreads Giveaway strictly because of the cover.

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How could you not want to know more about this book?  I did not read the first book by Tom Rachman entitled The Imperfectionists. Nor have I read anything else by Rachman so this is my only experience with his work.  I must admit.  I am intrigued.  What I am intrigued most by was the description of art and the characters.  Oh the characters were so amazingly developed.  I could not decide if I liked, hated or was completely ambivalent of the characters.  The main character is Charles, Pinch, Bavinsky.  I still cannot decide if I feel sorry for Pinch or welcome the Hell that he created for himself.  Pinch admires his father Bear Bavinsky far more than is deserved. Artist Bear Bavinsky is a complete asshole which is not hard to imagine as he is the stereotypical narcissistic artist. It comes as no surprise that Bear consistently lets down his son.  No matter what Pinch does.  No matter how hard he tries.  No matter how much love and praise he lays at the feet of his father it is never good enough.  The relationship of Pinch and Bear is the focus of this novel.  The reader accompanies Pinch as he navigates his life and makes continuous attempts to make his father proud.   It is easy for the readers to see that this is clearly a recipe for disappointment and heartbreak.

I cannot go into too many details because throughout this novel little snippets of the man that Pinch will ultimately become are sprinkled about.  What I will say is that I was pleased with how Pinch is able to get one over on his father.  Midway through this novel I put down the book and thought to myself, “I really hope there is some redemption for at least one of these character”.  As is always true with great character development we readers become invested in the actions of the characters.   You hate the jerks.  You become frustrated with the stupidity of some.  You care about what happens and want them to overcome their obstacles.  In this case you want Pinch to stop caring about what his asshole father thinks.

This is a well written and developed story.  Again,  the characters were the selling point for me (along with the gorgeously vibrant cover).  This is the sort of novel that you slowly sink into and let it take over.  That is exactly what happened for me.  I was seeing the side streets of Rome, riding the Tube in London and feeling insignificant with Pinch.  I am glad I had the opportunity to read this and review it.  It is available March 20th!  I truly hope you seek it out!

 

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