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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars

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In Amanda Craig's reworking of Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' we meet Polly and Theo Noble, who, for their summer holiday, rent the Casa Luna, a villa near Cortona in the Tuscan countryside. Arriving in Italy with them are the Noble's two unruly children, Tania and Robbie; Theo's mother, the very wealthy Betty, a hard-boiled American divorcee, with a face that has had so much Botox it is "frozen into an expression of perpetual displeasure" and a demeanour that "could curdle mayonnaise at thirty paces", whom Polly is hoping will keep Tania and Robbie under control. Then there is Theo's brother Daniel, an academic living and working in London; Ellen von Berg, a successful American handbag and shoe designer who has shops in London and New York, and who has her sights set on Daniel as a potential husband; divorcee Hemani Moulik, a junior doctor and her son, Bron; Ivo Sponge, a cynical English journalist with whom Ellen was once briefly involved; and late arrival Guy Weaver, a celebrity gardener. As the long days pass and the characters gradually become affected by their sensuous surroundings and the sultry heat, most of them, in various (and, for some, rather surprising) ways, discover things about themselves and those around them that will have a significant impact on their future lives…

Promoted on my paperback copy as a "wonderful and life-affirming read" and having been recommended this novel by a friend with similar reading tastes, I was expecting quite a lot from this book - probably too much and, in consequence, I do have to admit to being a little disappointed. It is true that Amanda Craig's descriptions of Tuscany are evocative and there is certainly some wry humour, but I found the characters rather stereotypical and mostly unsympathetic. Polly, who normally has staff to help her (even though she doesn't work and doesn't want to), can't control her children, and is rather irritating as a character, especially when complaining about how others don't realise how hard it is for her being a full-time wife and mother; Theo is a hypochondriac workaholic, who barely spends any time at home and won't stand up to his over-bearing mother; Daniel is too wishy-washy, and then there is the attractive and supposedly independent Ellen, who is desperate to get married and worries that she won't ever marry because she's "not thin enough, or toned enough". The only person that I warmed to in any way was Hemani and, as the novel progressed, I found Ivo Sponge became slightly more human as a character, but I have to say that I wasn't really concerned about what happened to any of these people - which is a shame. As already commented, there were compensations in Ms Craig's descriptions of Italy and there were some amusing observations, but despite having read and enjoyed a couple of other books by this author, I found this particular novel a less than satisfying read and I'm sorry I can't be more enthusiastic about it. (Perhaps I need a holiday in Tuscany?)

3 Stars.
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on 8 August 2003
Once again, Amanda Craig has woven a spell over this reader! What a truly delightful novel - lighter than In a Dark Wood, but no less funny, wise and beautifully written. Concerning a group of friends and relations who go away for a fortnight to the Casa Luna, where their bored children create mischief, it explores the difference in love, work and generosity between English and American people. The characters are completely believeable, moving in and out of the serious and the comic, and the style is dazzling. A modern version of A Midsummer Night's Dream that never exaggerates its jokes or its sources, Love in Idleness is the ultimate novel to take on vacation. It will make you fall in love with it, just like the "little western flower" used by Oberon. Betty, the mother-in-law from hell, is a creation of genius.
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on 24 December 2003
I bought this as a Christmas present for my partner, and thought I'd just read a chapter first. I then had to lock myself away to read the rest. I can't see how anyone could dislike such a charming novel (except those envious of Craig's prodigious talent). Yes, the characters are all middle-class Americans and Brits - but aren't they in most fiction? That doesn't make them smug, as someone has claimed - in fact, at several points I wanted to kick Polly, the self-sacrificing wife and mother, in the pants for being so depressed, or did until the real reasons for it were revealed.
As other reviewers have said, the novel is a version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, with the rude mechanicals left out (a pity - I was looking forward to some extra comedy there). Apart from switching the sex of all Shakespeare's characters (it is the women who pursue the men, for instance)its real touch of brilliance lies in making the three children, bored silly by holidaying in Tuscany, into the fairies. The clash between the children's world and the adults is beautifully described, but underneath it the novel asks questions about the imagination and its freedom to upset daily life, and about the choices people make when in love that are serious and worth asking. I didn't think British writers wrote novels as satisfying and intelligently witty as this any more.
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on 20 August 2004
I'm intrigued by the very different readers' reviews this novel has gained. Not having read any of Craig's previous books, I have ot say that this one made me immediately buy the two that remain in print. I think I've just discovered someone very unusual, a literary writer who is also a really good story-teller.
The setting, Tuscany, and the premise, a holiday house-party, both cliched but what Craig does with them is anything but. I suspect her novel should come with a health-warning, like Tibor Fischer's Don't Read This If You're Stupid, because if you don't twig that this is a version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, half the pleasure will be lost. Theo and Polly, the hosts, are a version of Theseus and Hippolyta, and two of their children, Tania and Robbie, are really Titania and Puck (Robin Goodfellow), with the son of their friend Hemani, Bron, as Oberon. The four quarrelling lovers are Daniel (Theo's serious academic brother, a Shakespeare scholar), Ivo, (a journalist who I see has appeared in another of Craig's novels), Ellen (a shoe designer, and Hemani (an Asian eye-surgeon). The cast of rude mechanicals are missing, but Bottom isn't, and neither is Hermia's creepy father , tranformed here into Theo and Daniel's creepy mother, Betty.
Craig's prose flickers in and out of each character's mind as she tells her story, which is how this group of affectionate, quarrelsome, selfish and unconsciously comical group of Anglo-Americans finally get off with the right person. The setting is described so vividly, but always related to psychology - "Each morning, the light came through the slats of the shutters in ripples, and as it washed towards the inhabitants of the Casa Luna, it smoothed away memories of the past. It was for this that they had endured long hours in the grey English winter or freezing American climes, for this that they had waited and planned and worked extra hours. The horrible feelings of stress, tension, anger, and frustration that coursed through their veins every day almost unnoticed began to fade."
If you don't enjoy writing of that calibre, you should stick to chick-lit is all I can say.
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on 10 January 2004
It's been a long time since I've enjoyed a novel as much as I did this one. It takes a simple idea - the holiday from hell, shared with family and friends - and gives it a fresh twist in modelling it on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. As a result, what at first seems to be no more than a light-hearted comedy of manners deepens into an exploration of the hazy territory between love and the imagination. The really inspired part is that the three children in the novel (Bron, Tania and Robbie) play the part of the fairies, causing the adults in their lives to fall in love with each other. The characters are all sharply defined, and the landscape around Cortona vividly evoked. An intelligent, playful and sympathetic novel it should charm many other readers besides this one.
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on 31 July 2004
A group of American and British people on holiday travel to the idyllic Italian setting of Casa Luna, Cortona for a fortnight and find that their expectations about what will happen are totally reversed. Craig introduces a large cast of characters who we get to know intimately over the course of the novel due to her skill at delicately portraying the psychological state of each one. She shows how Daniel's noble sensibility is at odds with his mother Betty's more ambitious goals for him. The author is able to beautifully conjure her characters sometimes in a single terse, meaningful line such as "Betty did not so much converse as hand down a smaller tablet of stone." Craig also creates the intensely fresh perspective of the young in the three children showing how their magical world melds with the vibrant physical landscape of the Italian countryside. Those that are familiar with Craig's earlier work will recognize Ivo as the mischievous critic who loves to be hated from A Vicious Circle. But even with this superficially unlikeable man, the author's meaningful phrases hint at an underlying insecurity giving his character a lot of depth. Over the course of the holiday the characters find themselves paired with the ones they could never admit to really desiring. All it takes is the madness of summer and a little fairy magic.
This is a thoroughly engaging and funny novel that is an up to date revisioning of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Although the tone of the novel maintains a comic air, Craig doesn't shy from tackling difficult social issues such as racism, sexuality and our culture's obsession with beauty. These problems are woven into the characters lives making them a fully-realized, modern and recognizable group of people. Most importantly, this book ponders the question of love in a way that is not trite or sentimental. Rather it shows the maddening confusion of it, the heart-stopping joy it brings and how it pulls us in the most unexpected ways.
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on 1 August 2003
It took me a little while to tumble to the way this is actually a modern version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, but I was hooked right from the start anyway. I love Craig's other books, but for me this is the best and funniest, combining the satirical edge and drama of A Vicious Circle with the magical insights into the world of childhood of In a Dark Wood. Eight adults and three children spend a fortnight on holiday together in a rented Tuscan house, owned by one Bill Shade,(you only spot who he is right at the end) and it all goes hideously and hilariously wrong. The hostess Polly spends all her holiday cooking and cleaning while her foul husband Theo lies in bed longing to return to work and being encouraged by his mother Betty (the moment you hear her face is permanently frozen by Botox you know who to hate.) Polly's best friends Hemani and Ellen both fancy Theo's younger brother Daniel but then there is Ivo Sponge (from A Vicious Circle) to stir things up, even before the three children make a love potion - with Viagra - to give to their annoying relations. There aren't any dirty bits, and you could give it to your granny, yet the climax is dripping with sexual passion.
It's beautifully-written, so that you can almost see, smell and hear the Tuscan countryside, and wise about people and love and literature so that you forgive Craig for choosing to write about spoilt, upper middle-class people. The hell of going on holiday with kids and friends is a universal one. Reading it was like going on holiday myself, and yet it's much deeper and more literary than the usual feel-good beach-read. The perfect choice for book-groups, Shakespeare-lovers, chick-lit readers and people who just want a great story. I'm going to read it all over again as soon as my bloke has finished it. I LOVE IT!!
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on 30 July 2004
I found reading this book a real treat - like eating a box of chocolates - you just have to sink into it and let the story carry you away. Craig has lost none of her touch for waspish one-liners. The revolting mother-in-law goes upstairs to meditate 'which was like napping but more fashionable' and the wicked but delightful Ivo Sponge is back. But there is also a real pathos at the book's heart - after all, aren't we all looking for love of one sort or another when we go on our summer break? It's the perfect holiday read.
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A lovely, moving and sometimes very funny adaptation of the story of Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. Craig sensibly doesn't try to produce a total modern copy of the play - instead, she uses ideas and plot elements from it to form her own, very original novel. Wealthy London-based Polly and Theo (unhappily married though they're not quite aware of this fact) rent an idyllic villa in Cortona for two weeks and invite four single friends (plus Theo's domineering mama) to join them. Sexual tensions soon intensify in the Italian sun. When Robbie and Tania (Polly and Theo's children) and Bron (Polly's divorced friend Hemani's son) decide to experiment with some herbal potions, the mood becomes positively fiery. Craig deftly combines comedy with some wonderful and sympathetic observing of individuals. I particularly liked Hemani the divorced Indian doctor, intelligent, independent but also in need of a companion, and Daniel the shy American academic and expert on Shakespeare (from my observances of a particular type of American academic, Daniel is a wonderfully realistic creation). I was also glad that Ivo Sponge (who I'd always had a sneaking liking for in 'A Vicious Circle' got a chance to become a reformed character and find love! And Polly's gradual realization that her 'perfect life as wife of an American lawyer' wasn't so perfect after all was positively worthy of Jane Austen. There were also some beautiful but unsentimental depictions of Italy, a place that Craig knows well, and the three children were very unsentimentally observed, with none of the coyness that writers often use to describe children - they really came across as human beings. A wonderful read - I felt quite bereft when I'd finished it. Craig's novels are always a treat and this is certainly one of the best. To be read in the sunshine with a glass of Pinot Grigio!
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on 18 June 2004
If you haven't read A Vicious Circle then you probably won't understand the thrill of encountering this irresistibly awful man again. Anyway, he's back, large as life and twice as smarmy, only this time he is struggling with the cliche of being in love in Tuscany. The amazing thing is that Craig makes him more and more sympathetic while never losing sight of his untrustworthiness. The story is great fun - as other reviewers have said, it's a modern version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, but for any other fans of the Falstaffian rogue, don't hesitate.
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