The Whirling Girl by Barbara LambertFiction Monday, September 3rd, 2012
About The Whirling Girl
As a child, botanical artist Clare Livingston was enthralled by her uncle’s tales of lost civilizations. Now, after years of estrangement, she has unexpectedly inherited his property in Italy.
She travels to the hill town of Cortona, hoping to find the meaning of this disturbing gift, left her by the uncle who fled his family when she was a teen. Instead she is swept up in a world of archaeological intrigue where new friends and lovers reveal suspect aims. Her evasions lead her along a twisting path until – as even her ability to paint is compromised–she is forced into an excavation of her own complex history.
Set against a landscape whose hills still shelter secrets from Etruscan times, The Whirling Girl explores the layered nature of desire, and asks what really are the conditions that foster art, or love–or the unearthing of civilization’s buried stories.
I have always been intrigued by what lies under the surface of love, whether it’s love between married couples, family members, lovers, friends. Such a tangle of roots, shadowy thoughts, half-forgotten memories … When I first went to stay for an extended time in Tuscany, I had in mind a novel about a beautiful young woman with a shameful secret in her past, one she only half-admitted to herself. I was staying near Cortona, the hill town where, in Medieval times, another young woman with a shame in her past had sought shelter, after she was thrown out by her lover’s family. A woman so beautiful that at first she was turned away even by the holy fathers, until she scarred her face and destroyed that suspect beauty. She went on to become a figure of great power, and ultimately the city’s patron saint.
I could hear the bell from the saint’s basilica, every night at five. I became intrigued with this story of how in order to achieve sainthood (and power and influence in the city) her physical beauty had to be destroyed. At first, I imagined my own novel as a sort of passion play, where the ego’s complex needs played out against a landscape made famous by artists since Medieval days.
But Italy is so layered in history. Two thousand years before Saint Margaret of Cortona, the city had been one of the great fortified centres of Etruria. From my desk I could look up at the massive Etruscan walls. The longer I spent in the region – visiting museums, archaeological remains, tombs – the more my fascination grew with that mysterious race which once ruled almost the whole of Tuscany, and left behind artifacts of astounding workmanship in those treasure-filled tombs. This lured me into a long and complicated (and exhilarating) learning process — years! – after glimpsing how the broader theme of archaeology jibed with my central character’s personal conundrum, the need to dig down into her own complex history.
Barbara Lambert has won the Danuta Gleed Award for Best First Collection of Short Fiction and the Malahat Review Novella Prize, and been a finalist for the Ethel Wilson Prize and the Journey Prize. The Whirling Girl is her third published book of fiction. Her previous work includes A Message for Mr. Lazarus (2000) and The Allegra Series (1999). Lambert is the editor of Dr. Johnson’s Corner, an online literary salon des refusés. She has lived in Vancouver, Ottawa, Barbados, and Cortona, Italy, where she stayed in a five-hundred-year-old mill house and researched Etruscan archaeology. She now resides in Penticton, B.C.
Praise for The Whirling Girl
~ Sexy and sophisticated, The Whirling Girl is like a fairytale for grown-ups. The hero, rich and besotted, lives in a castle; the setting, golden Tuscany, is bewitching; the adventure, a search for Etruscan treasure, is exhilarating. But it’s the sly, wry heroine—lovely and messy and flawed and true—who provides the real enchantment, undermining our expectations and exceeding them at the same time. ~ Annabel Lyon, author of The Golden Mean
~ Fast-moving and full of Italian sun, The Whirling Girl tours the reader – in passages of beautiful prose – through Etruscan tombs and the love life of its quirky heroine. ~ Katherine Govier, author of The Ghost Brush
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