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Ellis Sharp: Alice in Venice

Alice Short is our heroine. You will note the similarity between the names Alice Short and Ellis Sharp so maybe Sharp is getting in touch with his feminine side. As the book contains seventy-two photos, presumably taken by Short/Sharp, and part of the plot is about Sharp/Short writing the book we are reading, the congruence between author and character is clear.

Don’t Look Now is a classic thriller film from 1973 set in Venice. Alice plans on visiting some of the key sites where the film was shot in Venice, details of which she has obtained from websites such as this one and this one. She had planned to visit them with her friend Militká but she died. We also learn that she had a miscarriage when with Mark but they are no longer together.

Alice gets around. While in Italy she had planned to visit Florence but that had to be cancelled as she had to be in New York. She had been in Prague where she met Alain, a Frenchman, at Kafka’s tomb. Alain speaks excellent English but seems to be unaware that the third person singular of most verbs in English is inflected, though this may be Sharp’s way of indicating that he speaks with an accent.

Alice likes Alain (another similarity of names), as they share similar views on books and films (though he likes Hemingway, a regular visitor to Venice, and she does not and he seems to prefer action films) and also because he does not mention Grace Slick, like many men, but this, in my view, could well be because he is not familiar with the lyrics of White Rabbit.

He claims to be a waiter – Paris in the winter and Biarritz in the summer, with a sideline in selling rare erotic books but she soon discovers that the books are fake and conceal crystal meth which he sells. And, yes, he has seen Breaking Bad – three times. He will turn out to have other professions, including hit-man and, indeed, may not even exist.

The book, apart from the photographs, which generally accompany the text, has various things going on. We follow Alice and her investigation of the film sites, mainly on her own. We learn how some of them have changed since the film was made. (We do not know when this book is set but it is before covid, but well into the Internet era, so I am guessing 2010s. If Alain is, as it seems, in his thirties, this might explain why he is not familiar with Jefferson Airplane’s oeuvre.) A couple of the sites have become galleries/shops/watering holes. Others seems unchanged.

She watches the film again to determine the sequencing and tells us snippets of the plot. Some of the sites have other associations. For example,Kafka stayed in one hotel. She also lets us know what happened to the cast members. Many have died. We also get told about the Daphne du Maurier story on which the film is based. We also learn of director Roeg’s not always successful career.

Alain and Alice have a relationship (probably), much of it taking place in the form of snippets of cryptic exchanges on arcane topics as well as the occasional sexual activity. While she visits the film sites, he goes off selling drugs/selling books, killing people or whatever it is that he does. He seems to know Venice well and speaks excellent Italian. Unfortunately, we get very few examples of his Italian so I cannot tell if he makes similar grammatical errors to those he makes in English.

Where they do intersect is in literature, which they do talk about. Hemingway has been mentioned but there are others. She realises that there have been many novels set in Venice. She looks them up and I would like to think that it is my list she refers to. They do discuss famous people, particularly but not only writers, who came to Venice and, as this is Ellis Sharp, we get a short list of writers who did not come to Venice.

Their literary discussions are not only about Venice books. One of the professions Alain may or may not have had is as the leading French academic on Henry Fielding. They talk a bit about cinema but Alain has never seen Don’t Look Now and prefers action films.

As we have come to expect from Sharp, things are not always clear. How did Militká die? Is Alain really there? What are they talking about?And, of course Alice’s favourite mode of listening to music is random shuffle which might explain a few things.

Everything changes, Venice endures is the wise comment as they move on, while she visits Ezra Pound’s grave. As far as Venice novels, this is certainly a fascinating one and I have read quite a few. Maybe Sharp needs to get more in touch with his feminine side.

Publishing history

First published 2022 by Zoilus Press