"I was twenty-nine years old when the Arno flooded its banks on Friday 4 November 1966." Thus begins the novel, "Sixteen Pleasures" by Robert Hellenga. It takes place in flood-ravaged Florence and sweeps you through frescoed chapels, museums, bookstores, and, finally, to the waterlogged library of a Carmelite convent where the heroine discovers a priceless Renaissance volume of sixteen erotic poems and drawings, and we are immersed in the painstakingly delicate work of a book conservator.
They say that there are no new subjects to write about, only different ways to tell the story. Hellangra proves this to be untrue. At least I have never read anything like this before, a story that centers around the craft of book restoration while giving us a glimpse of the Renaissance and taking us on a delightful foray into the pleasure of erotica and human sexuality (our conservator is inspired to sample each of the sixteen) with an intriguing look at monastic life, all the while holding forth the recurring theme of home. "Home is the place where when you have to go there, they have to take you in."
I adored this novel and highly recommend it. It's one of those exquisite books that will stay with you long after you've closed the cover and turned off the light, satisfied.
One final thing: Robert Frost died fifty years ago yesterday. Master of the metaphor, he was admired then and now for his depictions of rural life. He was ambiguous in his writing and didn't answer the questions for you. "A poet lays out a metaphor and let you wrestle with it." That was Robert Frost. He deserves his own post, but because of time constraints (I really am trying to ready my manuscript at long last for querying), I'll leave you with a few lines from my favorite Frost poem.
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.