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Measure for Measure

Book Review: “The Shoemaker’s Wife” by Adriana Trigiani

S.S. Burgundia

S.S. Burgundia (Photo credit: pwbaker)


And I don’t mean in this review particularly. The writer included one in the title and a fair few throughout. Not to mention the blurb.

Well, it was nice. Take the Great War, poverty, death, loss and cancer; coat it with sugar and inevitability and there you have it.

(All the while, all I could hear were echoes of “A View from the Bridge”, although Marco didn’t have an Eddie Carbone to spar with. There was the shared Italian dream of getting enough money together for a robust taxi service and the same dodgy accents in my mind. There was the hope of becoming an American while working at physically demanding tasks for a few dollars to send home to the relatives. Luckily no one broke out into Paper Doll. Just some Puccini down the dumb waiter. )


This is a good book for holiday reading. Nice, linear plot with almost entirely palatable characters getting their way through life in the face of big cultural players of poverty and war while retaining their innate wholesomeness. Even the orphaned puppy had a long, happy life and a decent burial. Which seemed to be Trigiani’s hope for the world.

Much as this book was nice and quick to read, it was kind of irritating and clichéd. There were nice nuns, a corrupt priest, the death of a perfect child, coincidences, cruel twists of fate, unlikely reunions and an annoying toe dipped into historical fiction about the Metropolitan Opera which was kind of unconvincing. But maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention when the drunk landlady was listening to the operatic records.

Irritating also was Trigiani’s tendancy to give away clues. She would make it clear that Enza, our main character, would never make it back to Italy – firstly by telling us that and secondly by giving her chronic sea-sickness.

As I got into a have-to-read-this flurry for book club, I did perhaps, I HOPE, mis-read the ending, when it seemed that she was planning a trip to her family back in Italy. She better not have been. Otherwise we had an unreliable narrator which then knackers the rest of the book.

The main criticism was that the book was too nice. It reminded me of “Guernica” by… whoever it was that wrote the novel “Guernica”. Enza was very much like the paragon (Miren?) there – but Miren was then killed in the destruction of Guernica, whereas Enza seemed too good to be true, but got away with it.

So… American dream, love, hope, escaping poverty, surviving war, happiness and a decent burial.

A bit too nice.


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7 thoughts on “Book Review: “The Shoemaker’s Wife” by Adriana Trigiani

  1. Sometimes “nice” is not the epithet you want, right? Books must have an element of tension to them to really hook me (and you, judging from the above).

    • I think I am just hard to please. I also object when writers put their characters through unspeakable tragedy or torture. I think I like it when the characters are a little more flawed.

  2. Interesting review. I have read several Adriana Trigiani books, but they have all been based in the same small town of Big Stone Gap (although the last one did involve a trip to Italy) – I didn’t realise she wrote about other things too. The ones I have read are definitely holiday reading too – nothing deep and meaningful in them.

    • The fact that the main characters were too nice and relatively undevastated by the troubles they faces was annoying, but apparently she based it on her grandparents, so maybe the rose-tinted feel to the book is only natural.
      I’ve read “Lucia, Lucia” and I think it was better.
      The next book at book club is “The Testament of Gideon Mack”. Scottish classic, apparently…

      • I haven’t heard of The Testament of Gideon Mack – obviously I didn’t pay enough attention in my English lessons throughout my Scottish education! 🙂 I’m not sure that the title sounds very inspiring…

      • I hadn’t heard of it either and I did two Scottish lit papers at Uni… Never mind.
        It’s about someone falling down a crevasse and meeting Satan. Scary biscuits.

  3. Novels need flaws simply because we are all flawed even us nice people. There are reasons for niceness and they involve flaws. Good reviewing I appreciate the honesty about how cloying and irritating the main character is. I tagged you as the next Big Thing and no worries you don’t have to do anything just appreciate the fact that I think that you should be the next Big Thing.:)

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