The Last Supper: A Summer in Italy

Rachel Cusk

The Last Supper: A Summer in Italy

When writer Rachel Cusk decides to travel to Italy for a summer with her husband and two young children she has no idea of the trials and wonders that lay in store. Their journey leads them to both the expected - the Piero della Francesca trail and queues at the Vatican - and the surprising - an amorous Scottish ex-pat and a longing for home. Exploring the desire to travel and to escape, art and its inspirations, beauty and ugliness, and the challenge of balancing domestic life with creativity, "The Last Supper" is a travel book about life on the most famous art trail in the world. 3.4 out of 5 based on 9 reviews
The Last Supper: A Summer in Italy

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Travel
Format Hardback
Pages 240
RRP £16.99
Date of Publication February 2009
ISBN 978-0571242566
Publisher Faber & Faber
 

When writer Rachel Cusk decides to travel to Italy for a summer with her husband and two young children she has no idea of the trials and wonders that lay in store. Their journey leads them to both the expected - the Piero della Francesca trail and queues at the Vatican - and the surprising - an amorous Scottish ex-pat and a longing for home. Exploring the desire to travel and to escape, art and its inspirations, beauty and ugliness, and the challenge of balancing domestic life with creativity, "The Last Supper" is a travel book about life on the most famous art trail in the world.

John Crace's Digested Read (The Guardian)

Reviews

Scotland on Sunday

Tom Adair

Cusk is often bracing and rigorous, interrogating Italy with the vigour and attention of a toddler asking fierce questions which must be answered... She writes it all beautifully, applying her phrases like the brushstrokes of the masters she so admires. This is the finest memoir of Italy I have read since – 20 years ago more or less – Jonathan Keates' Italian Journeys made Italy suddenly seem irresistible and present in all its dimensions. Cusk makes Italy sing...

01/02/2009

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The Observer

Olivia Laing

The summer spent en famille in Tuscany...has become a matter of cliché. It smacks of bourgeois escapism and it doesn't, on recent evidence, guarantee good writing. Praise be, then, for novelist Rachel Cusk, who brings to her three-month sojourn in Italy a characteristic strangeness and charm... As the title suggests, Cusk's gaze falls on art and food, and her take on both is unusual and alluring... Beautiful as her reflections are, it is the human characters that quicken the narrative into life.

25/01/2009

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The Spectator

Caroline Moorhead

The black and white photographs, dropped into the pages, suit the text’s measured pace. They add to the feeling that Cusk’s Italy is a pleasingly old-fashioned country, and that it is still possible to avoid the ravages of mass tourism and Berlusconi and his many hectic and appalling television channels. Dense, sometimes too dense, too richly and precisely written, The Last Supper is like a series of perfectly lit scenes in a Dutch painting, every leaf and thatched roof minutely and delicately observed.

04/02/2009

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The Times

Celia Brayfield

Did she have faith? Does she still? And what was the cause of the mysterious pain in her foot that struck as she set out for the Sistine Chapel? We never find out. Nor does she tell us anything material about her husband or their children... The lack of self-revelation, though, is made up for with rich meditation: on separation, on possession, on the social stance of the Renaissance artists and, inevitably, on the transformative nature of travel.

30/01/2009

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The Daily Telegraph

Alexander Chancellor

Cusk is a natural and gifted writer from whom dazzling descriptions, analyses, metaphors and similes gush forth in rich profusion. I just wonder, though, whether the subject matter of this book quite merits the lavish Cusk treatment. Three months in Italy is hardly more than an extended holiday... But it’s Cusk’s flashy use of English that stopped me most often in my tracks... There are many delightful and perceptive passages in this book, but I sometimes wish that Cusk would hide her cleverness a little.

30/01/2009

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The Independent on Sunday

Amanda Craig

Cusk's brilliance at describing landscape, the "art in daily things", Italian cuisine and a series of vicious games of tennis is part of what makes her worth reading... The Last Supper is written with characteristic wit, courage, curiosity and, I'm afraid, condescension to lesser mortals. It is predictable that, like EM Forster's sensitive travellers, she despises the package tourists who crowd museums. Are they merely "a thick, hot cable of bodies", afraid of beauty, or are they "an overgrown humanity trying to fit into the narrow, beautiful past"?

15/03/2009

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The New Statesman

Christina Patterson

As always in her work, there is a scattering of archaisms ("commence", "venture", "outlay") that sometimes gives the prose an archness verging on the pretentious, but the intensity of her gaze can also give rise to descriptions of beauty and precision... her descriptions of Italian food - pizza "like a smiling face" that "assuages the fear of complexity", dough "as pliant and soothing" as a mother's breast - are pure joy. Which, bafflingly, is a quality largely absent from this account of a physical and spiritual journey... [A] strange, irritating and occasionally beautiful book

12/02/2009

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The Guardian

Justine Jordan

..she writes brilliantly about the architecture and animating spirit of Florence and Rome, Naples and Pompeii. Yet the book is scarred throughout by a tendency to sneer at almost every traveller who dares to cross their path... This, combined with early passages that abandon her own voice to conform to the clichés of travelese, and a tendency to magnify her own doings - an entire chapter on playing tennis, on a court that, naturally enough, "reminds me of the sacred spaces of the ancient world" - tries the reader's patience.

07/02/2009

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The Sunday Times

Camilla Long

...an agonising, pretentious stream of cultural whimsy and personal anecdote... What she lacks in solid material, she makes up for in swooping prose.... When she tries to learn Italian, she cannot bear to speak aloud from her phrase book, viewing the words as “a form of trousseau, a virgin's drawerful of unblemished linen”... there are some skin-prickling descriptions... But these are small pickings indeed in the great, rolling gush of it all.

08/02/2009

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