According to the author, Byron ‘is our shadow. Our own dark secrets.’ Jameson certainly has plenty of her own dark secrets to share and she sorts through them as her pilgrimage progresses. The events of Byron’s short and dramatic life serve two purposes in this narrative: they provide the travel itinerary and points of physical interest, but they also serve to introduce topical themes by chapter that the author parallels with her own life experience. Jameson explores Byron's life as a way of getting to the bottom of her own motivations and compulsions and finally, to achieve self-acceptance and make peace with herself.
Chapter by chapter, Jameson courageously peels herself raw for the reader and nothing is spared. Her relationships with alcohol, her parents, men and her god are all laid bare as she comes to terms with each one. While this may sound a bit heavy, it actually leavens out the rest of the material, which is humorous and delightfully light. Woven in amongst the philosophical musings and personal epiphanies are hedonistic descriptions of Italian food (we are treated to a connoisseurs guide to gelatarias and vicariously experience no less than ten flavours); bars and cafes, piazzas, churches, works of art and much people-watching and homegrown Italian wisdom. In short, there is something here for the travel lover, self-help seeker, history/literature lover and foodie. Eat Pray Love with a literary/historical angle, if you like.
The only downside to this book is to do with weak editing. After tripping over ‘suitably minimally made up’ as early as page two, the editor’s loose touch on the –ly adverbs became quickly painfully clear. And then there is the author’s overuse of the teenage descriptor ‘totally’ – a shame when her subject matter is so universal and dateless. For a writer who claims superior experience in big international news stories and travel writing these lapses give an amateurish tinge to her writing.
But I read this book while recovering from an illness and for that it was perfect: light enough that I could keep going with it but amusing and educational enough to keep me thoroughly immersed. Only problem is, I’m now totally desperate to go to Italy…