The Sixteen Pleasures by Robert Hellenga

Who (wrote it)?: I don’t know much about Robert Hellenga. He’s from the American Midwest, has been a college English professor for years, and has written about a half dozen novels. He’s traveled and lived in Italy, which certainly shows in this book. Most importantly, per his author page, he has a very adorable Black Lab (you have to scroll down to see).

What (is it)?: I think maybe this is a quarterlife crisis book written before that was even a thing. 29-year old book conservator Margot Harrington is bored with her life, so she escapes to Italy to become one of the “mud angels,” foreigners who descended on Florence in the aftermath of devastating floods. There are ill-advised affairs, nuns, a very old dirty book, fraud, and the age-old tale of an American finding herself abroad. 

When (are we)?: Published in 1995 and set in 1966. I saw a few reviews comment that the choice to set the book in the 60s felt odd, given how little the cultural upheaval of 1960s America figures in the story. I tend to agree. 

Where (are we)?: Florence! The setting is a huge part of the appeal, and Hellenga really digs in to this place. 

Why (read it)?: I read it because it was gifted to me by a dear friend. I’d say the most obvious reader appeal for others is the setting. This is one of those books you’d recommend to someone planning a trip to Italy. 

How (did I like it)? Eh…I feel like this should totally have been My Book. Books! Italy! Smut! These are all Good Things. But…eh. I founs our heroine Margot to be…boring at best. Let’s just leave it at that . Any time the book got near sex (which was frequent), it got super awkward and uncomfortable. I did find the periods spent in the convent with the nuns super compelling but found most of the time Margot spent in the outside world rather trying. 

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