Love in Idleness
by Amanda Craig
A review by Amy Reiter
In the opening pages of Amanda Craig's leaf-light summer frolic of a novel, Love
in Idleness, two Italian peasant women ready a Tuscan villa eradicating
all traces of its previous occupants for the vacationers who will soon temporarily
inhabit it. "It gave [the guests] the illusion that the house and its gardens
and woods were really theirs, and that nobody before them had ever discovered
its charms, or its mysteries," Craig writes.
Just as Craig's bi-national cast of characters a loose-knit group of family
and friends from London and New York enjoying a summer break together move
into the enchanting and venerable Casa Luna, so Craig herself has opened the
shutters, dusted out the cobwebs, fluffed up the bedding, and made herself at
home in a classic work: Shakespeare's Midsummer-Night's Dream, which
served as the inspiration for this contemporary work of fiction.
The frothy premise: Polly and Theo Noble, their puckish children, Tania and
Robbie, and their assorted pals and relatives charming shoe designer Ellen
von Berg, aptly named journalist Ivo Sponge, handsome academic Daniel, divorced
eye surgeon Hemani and her sweet son Auberon, evil mother-in-law Betty and,
later, preening TV gardener Guy gather for a holiday. They sun themselves,
swim, sup heartily, explore the villa's lush grounds, and dance around love,
apparently as foreign to their everyday lives as the idle hours they're whiling
Bored, looking for mischief, and in the mood to do a little matchmaking, the
children cook up a secret love potion (containing, among other things, Viagra)
and conspire to slip it into the grown-ups' drinks. But, well, one thing leads
to another, and soon this one's in love with that one, who's in love with the
other one ... and, yes, mass confusion ensues. Sound familiar?
In Craig's nimble hands, the familiarity of the story line surrounds the reader
like a beloved garden, but fresh twists on familiar themes waft through like,
well, like a cool breeze on a warm summer night. Polly (read: Hippolyta) is
the put-upon housewife who for too long has sublimated herself to cater to the
whims of her spoiled husband and children; these days, her greatest pleasure
is reading in preparation for her book-club meeting. Hemani (read: Hermia) is
the sweet-souled surgeon who, though divorced, is very much an innocent, struggling
to balance her love for her child with her needs as a woman; she's trying to
figure out whether she should cash in her morals for a quick, string-free screw.
Ellen (read: Helena) is a well-bred go-getter who wants nothing more than to
marry well; apparently in possession of a clear understanding of The
Rules, she periodically wonders if she shouldn't maybe have spent her holiday
in the Hamptons instead.
To be sure, the topical references can seem a bit overdone at times. And, though
she claims to have found inspiration for the children's language in language
used by her own kids, Craig seems to go too far into caricature with Tania and
Robbie, who with their Simpsons references and allegedly Bart-influenced
rudeness, are more intensely irritating than impish.
Nevertheless, Craig's bardlike command of the story doesn't waver, and she
masterfully conjures the poetic beauty of the Tuscan countryside, making Love
in Idleness a perfect read for a summer vacation or for those in need