A return to Venice: Transient Desires, by Donna Leon

Venezia! La Serenissima!

Two and a half years ago was when I most recently reviewed one of Donna Leon’s many Venetian novels. That was The Temptation of Forgiveness. Somehow I had missed Unto Us a Son is Given, which came after that novel and before Transient Desiresbut of course everything has been thrown off by the pandemic. I’m scheduled to pick up a library copy of Unto Us a Son is Given this afternoon.

Speaking of which… when the pandemic is over (if it ever is), I want to return to Venice for another visit. I’ve been there two or three times—at this point it’s hard to remember exactly, since we’re talking about the ’60s and ’70s—and I need to see it at least once more before it all slips into the sea. Combining Venice with nearby Switzerland and Slovenia would make a great trip. Even though it would all be return visits for me, it would all be new to Barbara.

Anyhow, what about Transient Desires? It claims to be the 30th novel in the Guido Brunetti series! That’s hard to believe, but who am I to disagree? Like all of Leon’s novels, Venice isn’t merely its location, it’s also a character in and of itself. Of course Brunetti is ostensibly the protagonist—with a large supporting cast of colleagues, family members, good guys, and bad guys—but the main character is definitely Venice itself. The supporting cast includes characters who are familiar to readers of this series—Brunetti’s wife and kids and his police colleagues, as indicated in the previous sentence—and some who are not, such as new colleagues, real and suspected criminals, and a couple of Americans who play an important but not really central role.

Every novel in the series contains a bit more about politics and a bit more linguistics than the novel before. The former is of the gender politics variety, not electoral politics. The linguistics includes a fair amount of two regional Italian languages—which some call dialects, and that’s political too—Veneziano and Napoletano, as indicated in the second excerpt below.

The major flaw in the story is that it ends without an ending. There’s probably some good reason for that, but I can’t imagine what it is.

Anyway, here are a couple of excerpts:



‘At the mere sound of my accent, you began to assume that everything I’ve done in the last years is open to question, and at heart I might remain the ignorant terrona that many of our colleagues still suspect me of being.’

…He opened his mouth to speak but could find no words. He was her closest colleague here, he knew things about her that no one else here did, and yet she still saw this in him. The shame of it was that she was right. Was this what Blacks and Jews and gays lived with—the possibility that the crack would open in the ice beneath their feet at any step, sucking down all hope of friendship, all hope of love, all hope of common humanity?

Categories: Books