E-Book Review 16: Julia Chambers – My Renaissance
Sum it up, Heartthrob: A love letter to Italy, a love letter to very hot sex.
What Julia has written here is elegant, interesting, intelligent, clever and absorbing. Just as importantly it is beautifully filthy and frequently arousing. I’m not really sure what else you can ask much more of an erotic novel.
The story concerns Julia’s year spent teaching English in Milan as a young woman. Anyone who has spent a year abroad (or even less) at such an impressionable age can testify to the impact this kind of experience can have on a life. Leaving home and a familiar country at that stage in life often results in a person opening up, flowering, forgetting inhibitions and letting go of the rules that may have governed their life to that point. It might be the first time that they feel truly ‘free’ – away from parents, formal education – even friends.
So it’s a ripe place to set an erotic novel, because, let’s face it, who doesn’t travel at that age without hoping for a sexual escapade or two? What’s particularly pleasant here is the idea of the author looking back on this time from afar (the story is set in the early 1980s), with the benefit of the wisdom life has given her since. This imbues the story with a certain warm, amber tint – memories have perhaps become idealised, but are all the more fun for it.
This is, in the end, a kind of exploration of love. Julia’s love for the beauteous country of Italy, its people and its peccadilloes, and a love for lust, even love itself. The very first chapter jumps in with an exquisitely erotic lesbian scene drawn with such tenderness and fierce desire that I found it difficult to believe it could be topped for the rest of the book. Perhaps it never was, but I can’t really class that as a criticism. The encounters she describes are all gloriously different, from the older man who merely wants to watch her finger her cunt while he brings himself to orgasm, to the bucolic woodland scene, complete with scarcely-believable-in-its-perfection lovemaking in a cool pool of water. Some erotic books really struggle to offer variety, but there’s everything here to be enjoyed and even moments that start pleasantly but end with a bitter taste. For all the gorgeous sex that’s made beautifully easy to imagine, there is realism here too.
Over the course of the book we feel Julia grow and mature, become more confident with her body, become more independent – in short, become an adult. She’s tutored well, of course, but she’s undoubtedly a fast learner, even if she can never quite let go of her favourite teacher/student. Intrigue comes in the form of this teacher/student’s husband, a striking man but one whose veneer covers a darker side.
We have to have a little criticism here, of course, and perhaps at times Julia does veer towards one of those awful travel bores, who knows everything about a foreign country and won’t stop going on about how marvellous it is until you begin to wonder why they don’t just go and live there, or marry the whole nation, if that’s how they feel. They tell you little facts about the people living there and have no idea about the enormous generalisations they’re making based on the few people they know well. We all know these people, and they’re usually lovely, but you just wish sometimes they’d shut up. Anyway, I digress and fortunately, Julia doesn’t stray too far down that path, so it never causes more than the odd roll of the eyes, and even then it can be put down to the enthusiasm of youth, which makes one feel as if it’s purely jealousy on one’s own part.
A quick word on the language. I’m never impressed by erotica authors who seem afraid of the most powerful sexual words – fortunately, Julia has no such prudish concerns. I loved this typical little description, a nice mesh of food and sex: ‘…this man was not merely a good after dinner speaker, he was a gourmet and my cunt was his antipasto, primo piatto, secondo and dolce.’ Makes you wonder which party to be envious of, that. And this was possibly my favourite line, purely for its blunt precision: ‘Concetta was Mrs Corallo’s maid and had a heart as big as her arse.’ Wonderful!
This is a beautiful first novel. Read alone, and late at night. You won’t be disappointed.