With prose as luminous as the Italian coastline, Jenny Mcphee writes of a tortured poet
grappling with the possibilities of romantic love as he tries to keep in check his own sense of moral failure. In his mid-thirties, Dante Sabato has already learned some hard life lessons.
He remains haunted by the violent war years of fascism, his life as an anti-Fascist assassin, and his time spent in prison.
It’s not surprising, then, that Dante’s life is full of hesitations and a sense of wanting to run away. Determined to put the past behind him and hopefully assuage his constant thoughts of suicide, Dante is immediately enthralled by Gladys and Prudence Godfrey, two beautiful and glamorous American actresses who have come to Italy ostensibly
to make movies while seeking to escape the perpetual “sand and grit” of Los Angeles.
From the outset, it's obvious that Dante is equally attracted to both of these exquisite women despite their obvious differences. The more free-wheeling and sexually voracious Gladys is all too willing to explore the boundaries of kink with Dante, her feminine wiles proving to be welcome distraction from the poet’s intractable past.
Yet ironically it is Prudence, the more conservative and demure of the two,
on whom Dante ultimately sets his sights. He finds himself ever more obsessed with Prudence’s “unique glow,“ her scent “elusive and changeable” giving Dante the sensation that he has known her all his life. As the images of these women become layered in beauty and in poetry, Dante
is finally buoyed along by the prospect of true love.
In the first blush of lust, Gladys is the one who physically desires Dante. Eager and quick-witted with a fine nose for the erotic,
her unquenchable desire easily distracts Dante: “Don’t get me wrong, but you suit me, of all the men I’ve known you seem the least complicated.” Filled with an uneasy sorrow for what the future holds, Dante cannot help himself, caught between his adoration for Prudence and his lust for Gladys.
The precariousness of the ménage drives Dante’s desires, his curious sexual thoughts often filling his minutes, hours and days. A truly beautiful depiction of life in 1940’s Italy, A Man of No Moon is about Dante’s journey toward finding love and how love is ultimately built upon secrets.
More significantly, the novel is also a veritable travelogue, moving from Rome to Venice and Capri to Lisbon, then
on to Florence and Dante’s home of Castiglioncello on the coast, where the sun sits low on the horizon and casts an unnatural light over the opal sea.
Somehow Dante knows where this threesome with Prudence and Gladys is headed. Meanwhile, author Jenny Mcphee effortlessly intersperses the real with the fictional as her novel beautifully defines an age of art, literature and cinema, of Dante’s veritable fears of being “a man of
no moon” caught between the dark, poetic truths of love, sex and suicide, enthralled by the powers that seem to be beyond his control.