Love in the Time of Leptospirosis

I Watch You - Irene Cao

DNF AT 46%


I had expectations from this book, believe it or not. I don’t necessarily get swayed by average ratings and reviews, especially since most of them were written in languages I am not fluent in. And a book set in Venice, translated from its original Italian version where the heroine is an artist and the hero is a chef?! Did I not mention my unhealthy 90s Marco Pierre-White obsession?! That just sent seven of my eight erogenous zones a-tingling!


I was actually prepared for the awkward metaphors and patterns of narrative seeing as this was a translation and for a while it even added a certain degree of charm to the story. As though an Italian narrator was relaying the story to me in heavily accented English. A small price to pay for what I expected would be a credible delivery of a slice of Venetian life with Bernardo Bertolucci’s atmospheric eroticism. It did promise to prove Italians do it better, after all.


And for a while it did. The heroine, Elena takes a vaporetto going to work, a woman took the walk of shame from the playboy chef by speedboat… even that scene where Leonardo (the chef, not the turtle) carries Elena on his back through the flooded streets of Calla dela Toletta where I ignored my mind screaming, ”OH MY GOD, LEPTOSPIROSIS!” I figured this would add that realistic texture to the story. I mean that's what matters right? The story. And I am seeing Venice through the eyes of an Italian. Yay!


Then Elena gets invited to the opening of Leonardo’s restaurant and this happened.


All eyes are on the centre of the room, fixed on a new apparition. Leonardo takes his place to thunderous applause. He’s wearing a black jacket with a mandarin collar and white buttons. A piece of white silk rolled across his forehead making him look like an oriental warrior. His presence is truly magnetic.

He also wears an earring.



Tony Montana's Cuban right?


Look, I fully accept and understand that hotness is a socio-cultural thing and there may be parts of the world where a man described as “solid and dependable as that of an old oak tree”, a man who likes to wear his shirt unbuttoned to show off “his tanned chest sprouting a tuft of fluffy chest hair” is seen as wildly attractive. I totally respect that.


I just don’t live there.


Then, THEN, a bizarre as fuck scene happened in the party where Leonardo does this culinary gymnastics in front of an enraptured audience filleting a swordfish and cutting vegetables a la julienne to the tune of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.


I apologize if this is a cultural thing in Italian restaurant openings in Venice but that was the point where the Bertolucci movie I was hoping for just headed towards David Lynch territory. The only thing missing was a dancing midget. If that was authenticity at play, I’m sorry but in the context of how this went 46% in, my uncultured mind just can’t. Even. Deal.


I suspect the story would have taken a rom-suspense direction had I managed to stretch my patience a little bit more but I literally just snapped with how Elena was depicted as this woman with the attention span of a goldfish. Her mind and interest cannot be occupied simultaneously by Leonardo and Filippo, who she fucked before he left for Rome. Filippo believes they have a relationship. Elena the Goldfish believes otherwise and fucks Leonardo on the side without the littlest remorse as the other guy Skypes her not an hour after.

I’m not lying. I’m just not telling the whole truth, I say to myself, and this eases my conscience. A little.


There’s very little development behind the characters to actually care for either relationship’s outcome. I cannot understand the attraction for either men and definitely aghast at this woman’s behaviour. I’m supposed to sympathise with her because she likes to daydream and shit? I’m supposed to find her inability to find the proper colour to approximate that of a pomegranate until she TASTED one, charming?



How far evolved from an amoeba is this heroine?


I’ve resolved to stop seeing DNFing books as losing to the horrible. I’ve stopped making that mental picture of the book giving me the finger and calling me a quitter.


This is me trying not to kill myself form overwhelming terribad exposure by the ripe age of 50.


Review Copy courtesy of the publishers.