Compelling dynamics

  • Book: The Italian Teacher
  • Location: London, New York City (NYC), Rome, The South of France (Le Midi)
  • Author: Tom Rachman

Review Author: LouP



Firstly, thank you very much for sending me a copy of ‘The Italian Teacher’. The title and cover of the book were extremely appealing from the start and I was eager to read this.

Having now finished the book, my impression does not match my initial expectations. I think I was expecting a funny and intriguing book about Italy, a book where I could escape and be absorbed into foreign locations. This may be why I found it difficult to get into the book for some time. It didn’t help that I felt no empathy for the characters to begin with and had little interest in what happened to them. I only began to be interested in the story when Birdie came to Rome. The pathos and awkwardness was palpable and I began to understand where the author was leading us and see that there was another level to the story.

I found the dynamics between Pinch, Bear and the other characters in the book extremely interesting. I thought Bear was loathsome – I hated how he rode roughshod over people’s feelings, manipulating everyone with his selfishness and self-importance. However, I was intrigued in the similarities between Pinch and Bear, who are essentially polar opposites….

Both characters crave emotional (rather than financial) recognition.
Both are afraid to show their true feelings and each has a string of disastrous relationships – they are unable to keep people close and are unable to let their mask slip.
Ironically, both Pinch and Bear are parasites – they rely heavily on and even feed off other people’s energy in order to be able to function. In doing so, they hurt and leave a trail of sadness in their wake. They cannot survive alone and constantly seek reassurance.
Both Bear and Pinch are extremely talented and intelligent, yet they are both insecure, cold, needy, have inflated ideas of their own ego and are unable to accept blame. Both come to a pretty tragic end.

Both Bear and Pinch work towards one common goal throughout the book, although do so in different ways. The goal is Bear’s legacy. For Bear, he wishes to be remembered as a famous and serious artist. Pinch’s goal is more tangible – he wishes for Bear’s legacy to make amends and provide stability for the wider family going forward, the way he does this is so ironic, and it made a great conclusion to the story.

As the book unfolds and concludes, we see that sadly, Pinch has chosen to sacrifice his entire existence to extol and exonerate a man that he idolises…but did Bear actually deserve or even appreciate this idolisation from Pinch and from others also?

Did Bear make a positive or negative impression on the Art world, on other people, on his family, on the reader?

The book also begs interesting questions about what makes art valuable.

For me, the book was fascinating in terms of exploring the dysfunctional characters and disastrous relationships as a result. The Art focus and travel element played second fiddle.

Since finishing the book, I have been thinking hard about what Tom Rachman’s objective was when beginning to write this book.

My favourite bit of the book? Jing…the way she says ‘Chars’ and leaves the door ‘ajug’… that did make me chuckle.

Thank you very much again for giving me the opportunity to discover this book.

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