Lead Review

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

Review Author: tripfiction



This is a novel essentially about a father and son relationship, a son who lives in the shadow of a narcissistic artist Father.

Bear Bavinksy is mostly a feted artist, depending on fashion and era. Sometimes he is out of favour, but generally his work can garner some extraordinary sums at auction, although he prefers is artwork to hang in galleries and museums. He is a mercurial figure, married innumerable times with children from multifarious couplings. Pinch (nicknamed after the Basque delicacy of Pintxos) seems to be the favoured son. And it is Pinch’s perspective on life that forms the tenet of the story.

The story starts in the early days of Pinch’s life, when Bear is married to potter Natalie and, as a family, they are living in Rome. All too soon, however, Bear is on to his next dalliance and Pinch has to negotiate his teens and adulthood within the shadow of a father, who, quite frankly at times brought to mind the figure and manner of Harvey Weinstein. Meanwhile his mother is becoming mentally more fragile. Bear takes Pinch to the opening of the Petros Gallery, when he is a mere teenager, and dumps him in the hotel room so that he is free to go and seduce a female acquaintance.

Pinch shows his father his own artwork at one point, he craves his unconditional positive regard. Yet Bear dismisses it. And yet… Pinch senses (hopes?) he has a special place in his father’s heart. He is naturally cowed and distressed by his father’s brusque dismissal of his art competencies. Following his childhood in Rome, he is well equipped to become a teacher of Italian in London at a private language school. It is a job that provides an income but doesn’t fully stoke his soul.

Pinch is almost a hapless figure, craving his father’s indulgence, who stumbles upon a rather good game plan which he has to keep under wraps in the art world (and I will keep under wraps from you). What is the value of art? Who determines whether the art of one artist is worthwhile and that of another is deemed worthless? The author has an interesting premise on the age old question about what drives the art market.

And, um, the book cover. At first I was delighted by the swirls of decorative and highly coloured paint. But actually, it’s quite hard to read the title and author’s name.

Ultimately this is a story of redemption, soulless at times but incredibly readable. It is a novel that I found hard to get into early on, I felt the American style of writing jarred at first but once immersed, it proved to be a thought provoking and mesmerising read. Give it a go!

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