‘Whereabouts’ by Jhumpa Lahiri

Thanks to Bloomsbury and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

Jhumpa Lahiri is one of my absolute favourite authors EVER so I struggled to remain impartial reading this but I needn’t have worried because she has knocked it out of the park again.

This is the quiet, lonely tale of a middle-aged, unnamed woman who works as a university professor in an unnamed Italian town. It’s more of a novella than a full novel but that makes it easy to read again. We get glimpses into her life through short vignettes and observations of the day to day occurrences in her world. We never really get under the narrator’s skin, or any deep insight into her character, she stays very much an enigma throughout the entire (short) novel. The writing is minimalist and poetic and there is a real sense of melancholy throughout which wouldn’t appeal to all readers but I found it utterly compelling. I knew that the woman would remain unknowable but by golly I wanted to try to know and understand her.

What struck me about this book is how Italian it feels. Anyone who reads a lot of Italian fiction knows that it has a unique feel to it and it made me want to read it in the original Italian to compare the overall sense of it. I don’t know if it’s because I come from an Italian family background but it really resonated with me. What is particularly impressive is the fact it was written in Italian initially by an non-native Italian speaker and then translated back into English – without losing the vital feel of the novel. This has left me even more excited for the author’s upcoming translation of Ovid’s Metamorphosis (which I am already chomping at the bit for).

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