Actually, Ardor: A novel of enchantment according to Prior’s website. Prior lives in London and travels in Italy, apparently, so I do not see why the ‘u’ was so summarily dismissed, unless the publishers thought, ‘Expose our readers to an extra/a missing U? No wai!’ I ought to do more research into this perplexing question, but I want to keep the “wai”, so I won’t.
I might as well start off with the thing I’ve written over and over again in my notes: “The prose! Such lovely prose!” Prior’s language is ornate and light at once, her humour gently raucous. It carries an otherwise not-bad, interesting story and makes it an elegant ode to unrequited passion.
It starts, as stories sometimes do, when Francesca Ponderosa leaves her home, to find her sister’s and maybe reconcile with her. In Norcia, Arcadio Carnabuci is deep, unattractive and lonely. From a randomly helpful gypsy (someone had not read his fairy tales!), Arcadio (note that name!) buys magic seeds for love, and plants them. They grow, and in due course become proper plants and bring forth flowers and then fruit. All of them smell of love and lust, and everyone breathes in this air of love – but Francesca Ponderosa barely notices Arcadio, caught up in her own loves, and her own agenda. Instead, Arcadio has the heart of Gezebel, the gentle, observant, caring, helpful mule.
Yeah. She’s the narrator. Ardor is 200-odd pages of unrequited love narrated by a donkey. She’s very eloquent.
Ardor is a novel about unrequited love, about passion and lust. Love hnags in the air in the summer-heated months. And incidentally, just incidentally, magic is here, there and everywhere.
As the town falls more and more under the spell of Arcadio’s fruit, the people there move inevtiably forward, towards or away from each other. (One of the subplots involve a doctor and nurse who have loved each other for years without approaching each other. Their narrative thread is melancholic gold, gold I tell you!) Some of them love, more of them lust – and of course, some of them make war. The same impetus drives people to very different things, the same madness expresses itself in very different ways. There’s something very unworldly about this kind of created inner fire.
After a summer of sometimes literally operatic farce comes to its climax, well, life moves on.
This is a very sort review, for a very short book. It is lively and graceful, and does not hide from the distresses of love, and the beauties nonetheless. It reminds me, and market-wise probably actually is, of one of those surreally magical-realist novels that tend to hide murky sociopoliticing under their zany, otherwordly plots. I wouldn’t, myself, look any deeper for that here. There’s more than enough fevered layers to explore as it is.
Ardor is a sweetly short read, rude and funny and sad and lovely. If you find the time, and it’s around, you must read it.