Palmerino is a deceptively slim, three-tiered endeavor in which Pritchard attempts to illuminate the life of Vernon Lee through the biographer who writes about her.

The narration follows Sylvia as she takes up residence in villa Palmerino to write, while occasionally backtracking to the life of Vernon Lee, the homely but  intelligent poet born Violet. Finally, short, italicized passages appear in the form of Vernon’s ghost, as it guides Sylvia towards an accurate re-telling. The approach is nothing if not unique – an unexpected interspersing of various elements in the re-formulating of a life.

The question of Lee’s sexual preference – the origin of her attraction to women and her advances towards two of them (one attempt rebuffed, the other realized) is what drives this novel. Pritchard prose is steeped in description – nouns dressed prettily in adverbs and adjectives. She has a reverence for place and a picturesque touch with language but fails to move her story along with it. Though her writing is undoubtedly lush, this reader soon tired of how “done up” it was.

Still, Vernon’s sexual initiation – her desires which lay dormant, her resolute fear of the female touch and  her eventual submission – is an alluring journey. There is definite narrative arc to this tale and an almost perfectly symmetrical conclusion to the two lives we follow. If you don’t mind a novel that takes its time and uses a little writerly flair pick up Palmerino to learn more about this Victorian lesbian.

Many thanks to Bellevue Literary Press for my advanced reader’s copy!

4 thoughts on “Palmerino

  1. My reading has been getting so far ahead of my reviews that I still have a week or so before I’ll have a post for this one, but my thinking fell pretty close on this one. I loved the story, but the inclusion of Vernon’s ghost was a little too obvious for me (especially compared to the rest of the novel), I would have liked something to suggest a bond between her and Sylvia that wasn’t so heavy handed.

    • I agree, heavy-handed in the right word. But I guess when you think about the fact that she really didn’t want a biography written about her, and about how fierce she was in real life, you can almost buy into the fact that she’d haunt the person who wrote it.
      I make it a practice to not go on to my next book until I have a review written up of the one I just read – I don’t think I’d be able to write one as memorably if I was caught up in something else…

    • I agree – I’ve had problems with several books that dragged. This one doesn’t drag exactly, it’s just a bit overwritten (I think).

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