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Reviewed by Jack Messenger for Readers' Favorite
The central character in Laurie Levy’s The Stendhal Summer, Alison Miller, carries a lot of baggage on her trip to Europe. She struggles to wrangle her luggage on and off trains, in and out of taxis and hotels, up and down stairs. Alison, 54, is a professional PR writer from Chicago. Her husband George has left her for his latest young conquest, their twins Abbie and Dan are concerned for her happiness, her mother worries Alison will be mugged or worse. Alison has taken the risk of blowing her life savings in pursuit of her great love, the French author Stendhal, whose biography she plans to write. Her travels take her from Grenoble to Milan, Civitavecchia, Rome and Paris. Along the way, she meets old friends, encounters new ones, and is reawakened to the possibilities of life and love.
There is much going on in The Stendhal Summer that is subtle and literary, yet also born of experience. The Stendhal Summer is concerned with what used to be called ‘highbrow’ culture. It is refreshing for a reader to be treated as an adult with a mind capable of expanding its range of interests. Similarly, the range of Levy’s allusions and references is wide, unconfined by what might be fashionable or contemporary. The Stendhal Summer takes the risk of not being comprehended, yet pays us the compliment of presuming we have lived a little. Laurie Levy’s writing contains many wise and deft touches. The Stendhal Summer is a delightfully accomplished and intelligent novel. Witty and refined, cerebral and sensual, it juggles its antinomies with flair and conviction, while its protagonist provides us with genuine companionship – baggage and all.