BUT WHAT WOULD ERNEST DO?
A wild few weeks of food, football and books. I step off the flight from Komodo, where I have been to write a piece on the eponymous dragon, and straight on to the Eurostar for Paris.
After briefly reminding myself how little I admire Robert Mapplethorpe’s surface-skimming photographs, I attend the Bill Viola show at the Grand Palais. Each piece of video art is like immersing your mind in that of the artist — bewitching, hallucinatory, beautiful.
That evening, it is the French launch of my third novel, In Love and War, at the venerable institution of the Shakespeare & Company bookshop, haunt of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Joyce, in the shadow of Notre Dame. I teach in Paris and so there’s a good turn-out. I sip rosé as I talk to the critic and novelist Lauren Elkin, the light gently fading over the Seine behind us. The golden cover of the book is caught in the last rays of light and the reflection dances across the bookshelves.
After dinner with Lauren, we find ourselves in a Chilean bar in the Latin Quarter watching the South Americans beat Spain. Grown men are crying, some of them Chilean, some Spanish. We drink and dance until late into the night.
The annual summer party of two of our dearest friends, Tom and Debbie. They have a pizza oven in their garden, which backs on to Holland Park. It’s a warm evening and the peacocks are still calling as we arrive. The summer of 2014 feels as if it’s trying to make up for all the disappointments of earlier years, and we are standing in shirtsleeves at eleven, persuading one last bit of goat’s cheese and truffle pizza into our mouths.
Everyone seems to have good news. An actress friend has just landed a starry (but, for now, top-secret) role. Others celebrate pregnancies, birthdays, artistic triumphs or merely the heavenly weather. My goddaughter, Mini, waltzes through the party, bestowing her smile on all she passes. It feels like a gentle moment, a time when the world heaves a sigh and puts its feet up.
At the Italian Institute on Belgrave Square for the London launch of In Love and War. The high ceilings, the various matronly figures bustling around, the parquet and quattrocento art — we could be in Florence (where the book is set). Book launches — my own at least — are a horror of misremembering people’s names as I inscribe the novel, forgetting to thank some key figure during my (always brief) speech.
This time, though, there is a haze of happiness hanging over the whole event, and it passes in a joyous blur. There are family near and distant, old friends and new, there is even Alan Hollinghurst, with whom I have struck up a reverential friendship. As we stumble out into the night in search of the after-party (in fact, the quiet horror of Argentina 0 Holland 0 in the Wilton Arms), someone sends me the link to an enthusiastic review of the novel in the Mail. I dance through Knightsbridge.
We’re in Puglia for three weeks — two in a trullo (a traditional domed cottage) and one in a hotel by the sea. I haven’t been before and so the first days are a frantic burst of sightseeing as we skip from Ostuni (pretty, but touristy) to Locorotondo (even prettier, but officious parking wardens) to Martina Franca (a white jewel on a hillside).
Soon we settle down to a lazy rhythm of swimming and opera at the classical music festival in Martina Franca and, above all, food. We eat with a kind of maniacal commitment, making every meal an occasion, sitting up into the small hours, our children snoozing in their chairs or sitting glassy-eyed in front of Willy Wonka on the iPad.
We visit a masseria — a walled farmhouse — called Il Frantoio just outside of Ostuni, where the food comes in course after delectable course, all with the rustle of the lemon trees, the chirp of crickets, bats diving down low over our heads.
There’s a 1940 Fiat Arditti parked outside the main gate of the masseria, exactly the same car that chases the hero of In Love and War through the hills of Tuscany. I take it as a sign, order another bottle of excellent primitivo, and raise a glass to 2014.
In Love and War is published by Faber & Faber