An art critic makes a sentimental return to Venice, the scene of a long-passed affair with a hippyish young woman whose tastes he always viewed with hidden contempt.
"What I want is the unbridled forces of nature," announces another artist before witnessing a man struck by lightning outside a Spanish cafe.
This short collection from the frequently garlanded Dutch novelist and travel writer Cees Nooteboom plays as a celebration of the heartlessness shared by life and art. Its stories mainly treat northern European expats leading rackety, hedonistic lives in Spain and Italy, drinking to excess and dying in mock-sublime ways ("people you find yourself grieving for even while you are still laughing about them", as one narrator puts it).
The best, "Heinz", is a long character portrait of a Dutch honorary vice-consul enacting some indirectly suicidal vision of the good life on the Ligurian coast, like a Graham Greene character with a penchant for speedboats and discos. Nooteboom's style is a bit sham-Nabokov, arch and obfuscatory. Nevertheless, his blend of seaminess and exaltation is his own.