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Novel set mainly in Pisa

24th September 2021

All Men Love Leah by Ksenija Nicolova, novel set in Pisa.

This is a fairly short and densely told story of the relationship between Enzo and Leah, set in Pisa (with a side trip to Florence). Enzo is just turning 30 and still living at home with his parents. He has the heart, flair and temperament of an artist, but he is chronically hampered by shyness, and by a lack of confidence and belief in himself. Below the surface lurks an anger and a childlike need to vent his frustration and insecurities. He searches for other people on whom he can rely in order to navigate expanding horizons.

Leah and Enzo have a serendipitous encounter early on, and Leah takes Enzo under her wing. She is a woman of the world and becomes his ‘enabler’. She is a free spirit, a contrast to his lugubrious and unconfident nature. The novel tells the story of the progression of their friendship/relationship, as she encourages him to venture out of his comfort zone and tackle new things – however frightening they may feel – things, that other people take in their stride. She encourages him to experience the world and all it offers. The author dedicates her novel to “all the wallflowers out there, trying their best and silently battling mental health problems“.

So far so good.

The style of writing is at times quite wooden and can be incredibly repetitive (which, let’s assume, is a device that seems to be a reassuring mantra for Enzo – but proves to be more of an annoyance for the reader). The text is also quite simply – I might even say simplistically – laid out. The range of vocabulary to express some of the experiences feels limited: food, for example, is often ‘delicious’ and I found myself yearning for the author to use new and differently descriptive words. It may be that the author, given Enzo’s childhood experiences, intends the narrative to be conveyed through the eyes of a child aged around 10: there is, indeed, a childlike wonder as Enzo discovers more and more of the world and then reverts back into himself.

I looked all over the book for the name of the translator. I couldn’t find it. At the end a nameless translator is acknowledged; it is stated that this is the first of the author’s books translated into English. Given the growing and vocal movement (#namethetranslator) to put pressure on publishers to acknowledge the important input that translators have, this seems like a real omission. It then dawned on me that perhaps the author had translated it herself – which might be a timely reminder that it is good practice to translate INTO your mother tongue.

The quality of the writing feels quite stilted and the structure can sometimes feel wrong: “The woman hands me the tickets and I leave the queue holding it in my hands” / “When you get used to a pair of shoes, you wear it until it’s worn out“. Can wine be ‘homemade‘? I certainly think of soup and culinary dishes being homemade, but not wine – maybe it’s an American thing (the text is often American English) and the term ‘house wine’ (if that is indeed what is intended) perhaps doesn’t exist.

This is a two dimensional narrative, set around mental health issues. The why’s and wherefore’s of Enzo’s psychological state are explained and the consequences outlined. The author explores this loosely defined couple relationship but there is so much invested in the telling, that the poignancy of love and friendship, building within the burgeoning couple connection, gets a little lost.

The settings of Pisa and Florence are quite well defined, with a trip to the Palazzo Blu in Florence included.

The book really could have done with a much tighter editing hand and more proofreading before being launched into the public domain (the formatting – paperback – needs attention too). It could have been so much more with some judicious input, I really wanted to like it but there seemed to be too many factors that spoke against it.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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Enter the 2021TripFiction 'Sense of Place' Creative Writing Competition!

A story in which the location plays as important a role as the rest of your words.

2,500 word maximum, 750 word minimum

Judges include Victoria Hislop and Rosanna Ley

First Prize of £1,000 / US$1,350

Prizes total £1,750 / US$2,362 

Winning entry published on TripFiction site and publicised on Social Media

Entries close 6th November 2021