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  • Written by Valerie Martin
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  • Italian Fever
  • Written by Valerie Martin
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A Novel

Written by Valerie MartinAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Valerie Martin


List Price: $9.99


On Sale: February 13, 2013
Pages: 272 | ISBN: 978-0-307-83385-3
Published by : Vintage Knopf
Italian Fever Cover

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fiction (34) italy (16) art (5) ghosts (5)
fiction (34) italy (16) art (5) ghosts (5)


"Acutely observed...charmingly old-fashioned."--Los Angeles Times

In Italian Fever, Valerie Martin redefines the Gothic novel in a compelling tale of one woman's headlong tumble into a mystery, art, and eros.

Part romance, part gothic suspense story and wholly entertaining, Italian Fever is the story of the awakening of Lucy Stark, an American pragmatist. Lucy leads a quiet, solitary life working for a best-selling (but remarkably untalented) writer. When he dies at his villa in Tuscany, Lucy flies to Tuscany to settle his affairs. What begins as a grim chore soon threatens Stark's Emersonian self-reliance--and her very sense of what is real. The villa harbors secrets: a missing manuscript, neighbors whose Byzantine arrogance veils their dark past, a phantom whose nocturnal visits tear a gaping hole in Lucy's well-honed skepticism. And to complicate matters: Massimo, a married man whose tender attentions render Lucy breathless.

Smart, sophisticated, achingly beautiful, Italian Fever is one of the most original and compelling novels of the year.


"Oh, for god's sake," Lucy exclaimed. "It's a ghost story." She dropped the page she was reading onto the smaller of the two stacks that filled every inch of the available space on her cluttered desk. This manuscript, the first half of DV's latest novel, had arrived from Italy the day before. The package was tattered and stained, the postmark a month old. Why had DV shipped it by sea mail? In preparation for the labor of transcribing it onto the computer, Lucy had passed the morning reading it, experiencing, as she always did when confronted by her employer's contributions to the world of letters, a steady elevation of blood pressure and an involuntary clenching of the jaw that made her face ache. The page she took up next was as covered over with scratches, lines, and mysterious explosions of ink as an aerial photograph of a war zone. Why, she wondered, did it take such an effort for DV to write so poorly?

        Under different names, in different settings, the narrators of DV's novels were all the same man: a self-absorbed, pretentious bore, always involved in a tragic but passionate relationship with a neurotic, artistic, beautiful woman, always caught up in some far-fetched rescue adventure, dipping occasionally into the dark underworld of thugs and hired murderers, or rising to the empyrean abodes, the glittering palaces of the wealthy and the elite. The whole absurd mess was glazed over with a sticky treacle of trite homilies and tributes by the narrator to himself for being so strong and wise and brave when everyone around him was scarcely able to get out of bed. He was usually a writer or a journalist; sometimes he traveled. When he traveled, he was always recovering from an emotional crisis and he was always alone. This time, his name was Malcolm Manx, described by himself in the early pages as "an American writer of some reputation." Devastated by the breakup of a passionate but tragic marriage, he has secluded himself in a villa in Tuscany, where he hopes to find peace, inspiration, and a renewed interest in life.

        Lucy placed her frog paperweight carefully on the pages and stalked off to the kitchen. To read on, she would need a cup of herbal tea, a glass of water, and two aspirin. The book was awful. DV's books were always awful, but what made this one worse than the others was the introduction of a new element, which was bound to boost sales: There was a ghost in the villa. DV had gone gothic. It wasn't enough that the unsuspecting Italians must succumb to the bold and original charms of the devastated American writer; now he was haranguing the dead as well.

        The ghost was the restless spirit of a dead Resistance fighter, a partisan, ambushed by fascist forces in the yard of his own estate. This dead warrior, mirabile dictu, shared with Malcolm Manx both a staunch love of liberty and an ancestor from the rugged Basque country. The presence of such a soul mate, a comrade, stomping through the family olive groves in search of peace and old-world wisdom had so excited the murdered partisan that he got right out of his grave, and now he was wandering around pointing at things, always in the dead of night, when everyone was asleep, everyone but Malcolm Manx, who was up and struggling with the big, hard questions of life and art.

        For reasons Lucy usually tried not to think about, DV's books sold well. A few had been made into movies, and DV was encouraged by everyone around him to write more. Reviews were rare, however, and seldom favorable, which galled him, but he had learned to take satisfaction in the size of his bank account.

        Through eight years and five novels, Lucy Stark had worked for DV. He never asked her what she thought of his books and she never told him. She was, in his phrase, "the assistant," or sometimes, more accurately, "the office." She kept track of everything, made sure he didn't see the worst reviews, kept his ex-wives at bay, handled his mail, supervised the flow in and out of large sums of money, and transcribed every word of his wretched prose from the tattered, indecipherable pages he sent her to the computer he had never learned to use.

        In the early years, she had tried to straighten out some of his worst sentences; she had balked when a mixed metaphor strained to include a fourth incongruent element, but those days were gone. DV had complained to his editor, Stanton Cutler, who had called Lucy and explained, politely but firmly, that she must restrain her no doubt rightful enthusiasm. "Just think of it as a draft," he suggested.

        Armed with her tea, dosed with painkillers, Lucy returned to her desk and took up the page that had driven her from the room.

A dark and brooding figure beckoned him eerily on the moonlit drive, and Malcolm felt his burning blood turn to ice in his veins.

        "Jesus," Lucy said.
        The phone rang. She dropped the page, reached over the lamp, caught the teacup in the cuff of her sweater, and watched in horror as the tea spilled out across the manuscript. Bringing the receiver to her ear with one hand, she lifted the soaking page with the other and tried to funnel the hot liquid into the wastebasket. The tea poured out across the carpet.

        "Lucy Stark, please?" a woman's voice inquired.
        "This is she."
        "American embassy in Rome calling. Please hold."
        And in the next moment, as she knelt beside her desk, blotting at the tea stains with a page of newsprint hastily torn from last week's book review, a hostile, disembodied male voice came on the line and gave her the astonishing news that DV was dead.
Valerie Martin

About Valerie Martin

Valerie Martin - Italian Fever

Photo © Jerry Bauer

Valerie Martin is the author of nine previous novels, including TrespassItalian Fever, The Great DivorceMary Reilly, and the 2003 Orange Prize-winning Property, as well as three collections of short fiction and a biography of St. Francis of Assisi titled Salvation.


“Martin captures what it's like to be an American woman it Italy. Forget those myths of romance and mystery. What Lucy finds far more valuable are friendship and the discovery of artistic treasures and Italian cuisine.” —USA Today

Italian Fever slyly dismantles its own satire and casts a long mysterious shadow over everything that has come before.” —The New Yorker

“Martin's… gifts are evident in her strong delineation of a not-as-sensible-as-she-seems heroine and a poignant portrait of a mediocre…novelist whose final manuscript stumbles into something approximating art.” —Elle

“Taut, honed and surprising.” —Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun

“A rich literary stew.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Martin goes head-to-head with some big names (Henry James, E.M. Forster) and comes up aces…. A heart-stopping, expert, and entirely contemporary novel.” —Ann Arensberg, author of Incubus

“An absolute joy to read…a wise, intelligent novel.” —Amanda Craig, author of Love in Idleness

“Sophisticated…elegant, honest, devilishly witty.” –Hartford Courant

Italian Fever is a spectacular book-skillfully designed, wildly imaginative, with a startling mix of a playful, romantic, and nightmarish confrontations.” —Joanna Scott, author of Manikin

“Intriguing…both literal and metaphorical.” —The Orlando Sentinel

“Graceful and gently amusing.” —Salon

Italian Fever is a pleasure that sticks to and tickles the ribs.” —Katherine Dunn, author of Geek Love

“Captivating…. In this smart, taut tale, Valerie Martin has captured the spirit of a place, merged it into a seamless narrative, and reminded us of the power of art to alter our lives. A beautifully written, compelling novel.” —Mary Morris, author of Nothing to Declare

"Spellbinding. . . . A virtuoso. . . . Martin's competence has kindled into brilliance." —The New York Times Book Review

"Entertainment apart . . . Martin has written a novel of ideas." —The New York Times

"Acutely observed… charmingly old-fashioned." —Los Angeles Times

"Filled with suspense and surprise in the telling." —The Boston Globe

  • Italian Fever by Valerie Martin
  • May 09, 2000
  • Fiction - Literary
  • Vintage
  • $13.00
  • 9780375705229

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