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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Intriguing and Unusual Novel
We are in Tuscany, in Castellucio, a small and modestly picturesque town, the home of self-exiled English painter Gideon Westfall and his assistant, Robert Bancourt. As the town prepares for its annual pageant, Gideon follows a self-imposed routine of painting, taking walks and eating in local restaurants, ably assisted by the reliable Robert, who takes care of the things...
Published 18 months ago by Susie B

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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but fails to stir the emotions
Gideon Westfall is a successful artist but his works are out of favour with the art scene in London and his paintings are described as lifeless, nostalgic or even kitsch. After a particularly nasty review more than a decade ago, he decided to leave London and settle in the small Italian town of Castelluccio, not far from the cities of Pisa and Siena in Tuscany. In this...
Published 13 months ago by Acorn


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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Intriguing and Unusual Novel, 23 Mar 2013
By 
Susie B - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: Nostalgia (Hardcover)
We are in Tuscany, in Castellucio, a small and modestly picturesque town, the home of self-exiled English painter Gideon Westfall and his assistant, Robert Bancourt. As the town prepares for its annual pageant, Gideon follows a self-imposed routine of painting, taking walks and eating in local restaurants, ably assisted by the reliable Robert, who takes care of the things that Gideon does not want to be bothered with: telephone calls and emails, updating Gideon's website, liaising with dealers and generally ensuring that Gideon is not distracted by outsiders. However, when Gideon's estranged niece, Claire, arrives unexpectedly, demanding answers from Gideon concerning the difficult relationship between Gideon and her father, Gideon finds he is forced to admit someone else into his carefully ordered life. As Gideon and Claire get to know one another he tries to make her understand that he is not interested in his own history; he tells her he is prone to nostalgia, but not for his own life, it is a nostalgia for the more distant past. However, Claire makes it clear that she has not come all the way from London to talk generally, she is here to make Gideon confront difficult issues from his own past. And while Gideon tries to adjust to Claire's presence, news of the disappearance of a local girl, a nude model of Gideon's, circulates among the townsfolk of Castellucio, making Gideon's previously ordered life rather more eventful than usual.

This is a beautifully written novel full of well-depicted characters with interesting past histories, many of these characters peripheral to the main story, but intriguing nevertheless. The author also evocatively describes the landscape and history of his fictional town and its environs, so the reader is often taken away from the main story as we read vignettes about art, architecture, legends, historical characters and more. For example, when Claire reacts badly to being stung by a bee, we are given a short biography of the Italian honey bee; when Robert and Claire encounter an owl outside a derelict building, we get the opportunity to read about the tawny owl; the author also takes time out from the story to include encyclopaedia entries, fictional articles, biographical details and gallery notes on the paintings of Gideon Westfall; therefore if you prefer a direct and fast-paced narrative, this may not be to your taste, but other readers may find these imaginative outings add a richness and depth to the story. I found this an intriguing and unusual novel which has made me interested in finding out more about the author and his previous works.

4 Stars.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This novel will have you booking a flight to Italy - pronto!, 6 Sep 2013
By 
Sue Kichenside - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Nostalgia (Hardcover)
" 'But a family,' replied Gideon, 'is one of the many things - perhaps the most important thing - that the artist must deny himself if he is to achieve everything of which he is capable.' And he proceeded to list...the childless greats: Raphael, Ingres, Michelangelo, Titian, et cetera, et cetera. 'What about Picasso? He had children, didn't he?' asked Mr Bancourt. 'Precisely,' answered Gideon."

Gideon is an artist of the old school. He is very good, perhaps great, but the London art establishment is sniffy about his work, preferring dead sharks, diamond-studded skulls and unmade beds. Rather than remain where his work goes unappreciated, Gideon has lived and worked happily for many years in a small town called Castelluccio in Tuscany. His loyal assistant, Robert, saves him from the monotonous chores of running the studio and protects him from unwanted visitors. Until one slips through. Enter Claire, the daughter of Gideon's late unlamented brother. Will Gideon and his niece like or loathe each other?

So the backbone of the story is slight. But the writing - ah, the writing - is magnificent. The fictitious town of Castelluccio, unremarkable and therefore off the usual Tuscan tourist circuit, is the fourth main character in the story; it is so well evoked that you can visualise its plain piazzas and dark cobbled alleys in your mind's eye perfectly. Jonathan Buckley takes us on many a detour where we learn about the various local characters and their ancestors, the history of the small town's few buildings of note, the details of the local flora and fauna. And he is masterful with a metaphor. Here is Claire discovering the cypress-tree'd countryside around Castelluccio: "She eats her sandwich and a peach, and lies down on the grass, amid thousands of pills of sunlight; within a minute she's asleep."

There is an outstanding chapter where the police go to question Gideon about the disappearance of a young local beauty who had modelled for him. Robert's tactful translation of the aggressive cop's questions and Gideon's less than helpful replies show this writer's wit as well as warmth. But above all, the writing has soul. I had to slow down the pace of my reading to prolong the sheer enjoyment. Early in the year, I had already nominated what I thought would be my favourite book of 2013. Norwegian by Night now has to share the top slot with the extraordinarily wonderful Nostalgia.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars clarity suffused with warmth - like breathing Tuscan air, 20 Jan 2014
This review is from: Nostalgia (Hardcover)
I've read all of Jonathan Buckley's extraordinary novels, and this is absolutely his finest yet. It's the warmest too - and not because of the exquisitely rendered Tuscan setting. His characters breathe beyond the edges of the story, and it's one of those rare, rare books where you feel bereaved when you finish. There's a delicate hint of a detective novel here, too - we're given the after-echoes of the particular and often painful circumstances that bring these people together in Castelluccio, and the full, rich pathos emerges with magnificently controlled slowness. In fact, Buckley blends melancholy and compassion in a way I don't think I've seen anywhere else. There's also a kind of steely moral precision that's reminiscent of Henry James, but it's all much kinder and humbler than that. Actually, I simply cannot understand why this novel hasn't won every prize going - except that it's gentle, sophisticated and beautifully understated.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars in love with Italy, 31 Aug 2013
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This review is from: Nostalgia (Hardcover)
Great and deep novel! If you're the one who travels to Mediterranean equipped with loads of literature about locals, their history and culture, you'll like it. Intelligent read! Once more had a chance to fall in love with Tuscany...
It's a shame that this novel is not regarded as the serious contender against UK literary mainstream (IMc, MA amd JB).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A whole world re-created here, 9 Jan 2014
This review is from: Nostalgia (Hardcover)
A very clever,wise, compassionate book which sets an examination of the complexities of human relationships within the context of a small imaginary Tuscan town. The historical inventions are amazingly real and mixed as they are with the realities of the fauna, flora and geology of Tuscany , after being immersed in the book for a time I felt that I had indeed been there as an interested visitor , been involved in the everyday life of the town and the interactions of all the characters. Quite a tour de force. If you love Tuscany you will love this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jonathan Buckley's best novel to date, 1 Aug 2013
By 
Phil (Bristol, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Nostalgia (Hardcover)
How fair are the judgements that we make about people that we know mostly through what we've been told about them? This is the question that underpins the plot (such as it is) of this thoughtful and affecting novel - one that is appropriately slow and relaxed, like the Italian town in which it is set. The question is explored by bringing a London divorcee to the town in search of her Uncle Gideon, about whom she feels immense anger, due to his attitude towards her parents. Through gradual revelations, we learn about Claire and her uncle, in a brilliant study of personality, feelings and behaviour. Claire's perceptions do shift a little, but this isn't about showing that someone has been completely wrong - just that there are always two sides to a story. Don't expect answers to everything you are made to wonder about; this is more of a novel in which you should enjoy the journey rather than wait for the destination.

I read my first Jonathan Buckley novel some years back, and his originality and wit, and the quality of his writing, have always brought me back to him, despite the fact that not one of his previous novels left me feeling satisfied. But this one sustains its grip right to the end, and was a delightful read. The characters - including many walk-on parts amongst the idiosyncratic inhabitants of the town of Castelluccio - are wonderfully drawn, and the interactions between them provide much of the amusement. But it could be said that the town itself is the main character, gloriously described as it is, and with such affection that you could imagine it's a real town that the author knows well.

If I have one criticism, it is that the factual texts that are interspersed amongst the story are variable in terms of their appeal - some are lovely to read, and add to the experience, but others felt superfluous or were tedious. A nice idea, but I think it was a bit overdone. But this is a beautiful and tender exploration of fallible human beings, in a sun-drenched setting, and it moved me and intrigued me in equal measure. I'm glad I persisted with Mr Buckley - it was worth it. Five stars are perhaps too generous for a slightly flawed novel, but four doesn't seem enough.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beguiling novel which draws you in to the life of small-town Italy, 24 April 2013
By 
A Common Reader "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Nostalgia (Hardcover)
In Nostalgia, Jonathan Buckley has done for the Tuscan town of Castelluccio what William Nicholson did for the Sussex town of Lewes (The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life) by writing a novel which captures the essence of people and place as he gently unpacks the life of its inhabitants for the delight of his readers.

The Castelluccio of Nostalgia is small enough to be a backwater, but large enough to have enough cafe's restaurants and other locations in which various social set-pieces can take place. The town is steeped in history, and the author regularly diverts into descriptions of people and events in the town's past which together build up to make a fascinating background to the unfolding events which make up the novel.

Gideon Westfall is an elderly artist who has exiled himself from the London art-scene in protest at their rejection of the "representational art" which goes to make up the majority of paintings in galleries around the world. Critics describe Gideon's paintings as "nostalgic", and despite their popularity with wealthy purchasers around the world, they do not appear in any of the great London galleries. Customers commission his portraits because he knows how to create a likeness with just a touch of flattery which will lessen the effects of age just a little, while also being recognisable. The work he produces without commissions sells equally well, with elegant and tasteful nudes predominating.

One day, woman arrives to see Gideon. At first Gideon's assistant Robert tries to turn her away, but she persists in demanding an appointment and on seeing Gideon announces that she is his long-lost niece, Claire Yardley. Claire's father has recently died and she has found a number of family photographs of Gideon and his brother which she thinks may be of interest to Gideon. Claire knows that the two brothers fell out long before she was born, and in coming to Castelluccio she hopes to find out the background to this family rift.

Gideon is clearly reluctant to look at the photographs and while he is welcoming to his niece he is extremely evasive about the reasons for his falling out with his brother; "we were never close". Claire is rebuffed when she tries to probe more deeply but Gideon seems pleased to find that she is staying on in Castelluccio for a few days and he arranges to meet her later in a local restaurant.

Over the next few days, Gideon and Robert show Claire around the small town and the local places of interest and Claire explores on her own using Gideon's old car. Towards the end of the week she does in fact receive the revelation she desires about the two brothers but it is somehow deeply unsatisfying to her (although readers may think otherwise).

On the face of it, this may seem to be quite a thin premise on which to hang a novel but in some ways, the small back story is not the point of the book at all, for this is as much the story of Castelluccio and it's people as it is the story of Gideon Westfall and his family. We also have a minor mystery story going on in that one of Gideon's young female models, Ilaria, has gone missing and her family are deeply concerned and wonder if Gideon knows anything about what happened to her.

Jonathan Buckley also spends a large part of the book going back into the history of Castelluccio and its people with countless little stories often going back centuries in time to early inhabitants of the town and the anecdotes surrounding them. This gives a timeless quality to the novel and slows down the whole reading process - it is tempting to pass over these but as I read them I found myself drifting into an almost timeless state of mind where the centuries seemed to roll by in an endless stream.

Despite its extremely slow pace this is what might be called an "enchanting" novel. It is difficult to think of a book which conveys such an elegant word-picture of a town and the people that live in it. Although it focuses on the artist and his associates, it travels far and wide and back in time, to build up an impression of this small town which is hard to forget. By the time I finished the book I felt I had been staying in Castelluccio myself, so vivid is the picture which builds up in the mind.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but fails to stir the emotions, 28 July 2013
This review is from: Nostalgia (Hardcover)
Gideon Westfall is a successful artist but his works are out of favour with the art scene in London and his paintings are described as lifeless, nostalgic or even kitsch. After a particularly nasty review more than a decade ago, he decided to leave London and settle in the small Italian town of Castelluccio, not far from the cities of Pisa and Siena in Tuscany. In this community he is called `maestro' and accorded the respect he craves. He also keeps to a busy and tightly regulated work schedule that results in many paintings of the local area as well as scores of female nude portraits using local women as models. One of the models, the barely adult Ilaria, has disappeared. Despite the reputation that many artists have of being over-endowed in the libido department, Gideon insists he has not had an affair with a woman in years and there is little evidence to suggest otherwise. He has devoted himself utterly to his art and in his life human beings come off second best.

Gideon's assistant is Robert Bancourt. He is dedicated to Gideon, admires his discipline and artistic skill, and makes up for his master's solitude and celibacy by moving from one woman to the next in quick succession. For most of this tale he is involved with a woman named Teresa, but you always sense it will not be ending up in conjugal bliss. While Gideon speaks only a few words of Italian, Robert is fluent and thus he acts as Gideon's lifeline to the locals, including the police who are searching for the missing Ilaria.

Both Gideon and Robert are happy in the relative anonymity of Castelluccio. Gideon can enjoy acclaim and a valued place in local society far from the pesky critics and art dealers of London, and Robert has a job that requires a high degree of competence but demands no ambition. It is the ideal arrangement.

Then one day Gideon's niece, Claire Yardley (yes, she likes perfume), appears in town. Gideon has not seen her since she was a child and is a bit perplexed by her arrival. Claire is divorced after her husband had several affairs, and her father (Gideon's brother) recently died. Her mother passed away some years before but Gideon did not attend either funeral and had no contact with his relatives. Claire has come looking for some answers: why did Gideon abandon his brother? And why does he loathe the family so?

In a slow dance between these three characters - Gideon, Claire and Robert - we see layers of the past emerge and Claire's early assumptions about her uncle are revised and made more complex, even as some of her questions remain unresolved. The town itself and echoes of past feuds and intrigues in its long history provide a backdrop to the interplay between Claire and the two men, and along the way we learn about some of the town's characters and their own family sagas.

As well as getting to know Gideon in more depth, Claire uncovers differing judgements about Gideon's art and his status in the art world. He is an aficionado of classical art and implacably opposed to modernism in all its forms. Claire does not share his attitude but she does come to respect his determination and self-assurance. They are qualities that both she and Robert have in far too little measure.

This is a very long novel and written in a clear, if pedestrian, style. There are many digressions that slow down the plot and add little or nothing to the story. Almost every mention of an animal leads to a description of it that reads like something from a school textbook. The same happens with mentions of buildings, Gideon's paintings or famous old citizens of Castelluccio: we are fed information that would not sit out of place in an earnest but dull guidebook. It is difficult to see what Jonathan Buckley was intending with this odd approach.

There are twelve chapters, each divided into twelve numbered sections (yes, I know that sounds gross), and this straitjacket means the flow of the story is often broken. Many of the sections follow a standard form, opening with a tangential event before turning to the main point. Two-thirds of the way through I began to find this tiresome, reducing my enjoyment of the story.

In sharp detail, Buckley captures the small town atmosphere, the interweaving of lives and the rather sad asylum that Gideon and Robert have carved out for themselves, but more focus on the main characters and letting them tell the story would have made this a stronger novel. Too much of the narrative is drearily didactic and the result is that the world of Castelluccio always remains at arm's length - interesting, but failing to stir the emotions.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A regrettable miscalculation, 11 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Nostalgia (Hardcover)
Around one third of the book consists of seemingly random factual interpolations which are both distracting and irritating unless your interests include the manufacture of candles, geothermal power or the Common Wall Lizard. If not, then these sections could happily be excised without detriment to the plot. This, in itself is thin and barely able to sustain a full-length novel. The setting, a small Italian town, is intended to broaden its appeal. Alas, lists of street names and menu items do not create a living and sympathetic portrait. I had no sense that the author, who adopts a factual and detached tone throughout, has either an experience and enjoyment of life in Italy or an appreciation of its language in which the reader can share.
There are some good things here but, overall, Mr Buckley is guilty of a regrettable miscalculation.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Don't bother, 28 April 2014
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This review is from: Nostalgia (Kindle Edition)
This was l thought a boring book about a reactionary type artist who goes to live in Italy. As a travel guide to Tuscany it is OK l suppose but the plot is weak and the ending a complete letdown. I was relieved to have got to the end of this rather tiresome novel.
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Nostalgia
Nostalgia by Jonathan Buckley (Hardcover - 7 Mar 2013)
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