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Thursday, June 07, 2018

Reader's Diary #1839- Tom Rachman: The Italian Teacher

It took me a little while to get into Tom Rachman's The Italian Teacher, finding it at first a bit on the stuffy side. Were these lofty ideas about art veering too close to pretentiousness? Those ideas, plus the traditional style of Rachman's writing (though perhaps I should acknowledge the inventive time jumps) reminded me Robertson Davies.

Before long, however, it grew on me. More than art, the central theme became one of complicated (or ordinary?) father/ son dynamics and the insecurities that arise as a result. It's especially strained and significant here because the father is a world renowned artist and as a result, everyone (father and son included) has an inflated sense of his importance.

Having been in Italy while reading the book, I especially liked scenes depicted there, but I think I liked the portrayal of Pinch, the protagonist son most of all. He's such a realistic but humanly flawed character. His insecurities are totally believable even if occasionally frustrating. He has impostor syndrome, which I'm sure most of us could relate to, but sometimes the way he approached them made me wonder if he didn't have OCD or perhaps fell on the Austism spectrum.

I did, however, find myself wondering about the depiction of female characters. On the one hand, I think Rachman makes a fine feminist point about female artists not being taken as seriously as rhey should be. On the other hand, and while I recognize this was ultimately a father/son story, I question if the females here were as developed or as believable. (I especially found the return of Pinch's first love in the latter half problematic; more convenient for Pinch's story than plausible, I thought.) Still, perhaps female readers would have different takeaways than this. Anyone?

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