Rivière, William 1954–
RIVIÈRE, William 1954–
Born 1954; married a painter. Education: Attended Cambridge University.
Home—Italy. Agent—Caroline Dawnay, Peters, Fraser & Dunlop, Drury House, 34-43 Russell St., London WC2B 5HA, England.
University of Urbino, Urbino, Italy, faculty member.
"Books of the Year" list citations from Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph, and Daily Mail, all for Echoes of War; Book of the Year citation, Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, both for Kate Caterina.
Watercolour Sky, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1990.
A Venetian Theory of Heaven, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1992.
Eros and Psyche, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1994.
Borneo Fire, Sceptre (London, England), 1995.
Echoes of War, Sceptre (London, England), 1997.
Kate Caterina, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 2001.
By the Grand Canal, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2004.
British novelist William Rivière explores the world of the minor gentry from the deck of a sailboat, the autumn fields of hare and pheasant hunting, and the quieter but not tamer drawing room in his books. But although the author is known for the power of his lyrical descriptions of sea, sky, and landscape, his most minute descriptions are of the human mind in a tumult of thought and emotion. Norfolk is the setting for two of his novels, although his characters go as far afield as Italy and Burma.
Rivière's A Venetian Theory of Heaven tells the story of one married woman's affair while in Venice, while the setting is Greece in Eros and Psyche. The latter features Imogen Scottow, a weekend guest at the Greek island home of Laura Rodastomo, the widow of a Greek tycoon. Imogen (the Psyche of the title) is "a successful, beautiful, self-contained fashion designer," according to a review by Caroline Moore in Spectator, and is the single mother of a fifteen-month-old baby girl whose father's identity she obstinately withholds—from him as well as from everyone else. The role of Eros is fulfilled by Dario de Corvaro, who was described by Mark Wormald in the Times Literary Supplement as "an impoverished Umbrian aristocrat" who is also invited to the weekend party and whose strong resemblance to Angelica, Imogen's child, is quickly noted by the hostess and other guests. In the end, Rivière reconfigures the Psyche and Eros myth by rejoining Imogen and Dario. Moore saw the writings of Henry James as a heavy influence on the book: "Most of the time, I was thoroughly enchanted. Every so often, however, I became hot for certainties, and was reminded of nothing so much as the zig-zag progress of a fly in a closed room, apparently dodging ghostly swatters too tenuous for our grosser senses to perceive."
In 1995 Rivière published Borneo Fire, the story of what Julian Ferraro called in the Times Literary Supplement a" pas de deux toward death" for two of its central characters—Philip Blakeney, who fought the Japanese during World War II, and his adopted daughter, Cassandra, the child of one of Philip's fellow soldiers and a native woman. Another central character is Philip's environmentalist son, Hugh. According to Ferraro, "the most compelling presence is not really Blakeney, nor any of the characters with whom his fate is intertwined, but the island of Borneo itself." Ferraro argued that the novel is "above all else about colonization. Not simply political or economic colonization … but also emotional or sentimental colonization by the imposition on the place of personal resonances, memories and griefs." In the end, Ferraro contended that Rivière's desire to sketch the horrific costs of colonization also produced the novel's worst flaw: Rivière "characteristically presents Borneo as simply waiting to have the constructions of others projected on it …. There is a sense in which the book itself gratifies much the same emotional and sentimental colonialism of which it offers such a sensitive critique."
Echoes of War returns Rivière's characters to Norfolk. The Lammases, like the Dobells of Rivière's first novel, are landed gentry whose appreciation for the outdoors is indefatigable. Charles Lammas, within whose thoughts the novel is largely set, dearly needs the comforts of home and its environs after fighting in World War I; both he and his wife, Blanche, have lost brothers in action. The presence of Georgiana, another main character, according to David Horspool in the Times Literary Supplement, "acts as a reminder in Norfolk of a different set of rituals in the East, at the end of the British Empire." However, Echoes of War "is not, ultimately, a novel which is concerned with giving lessons about the wider world," Horspool noted. "The reader finishes the novel … [with] an insight about the strength of tradition, but also of the individual, and how the two combined have the power to withstand the most shattering events."
The title character of Kate Caterina is a young British wife and mother who has married into an aristocratic family in Italy. As World War II looms, Kate tends to her beloved daughter and physician husband in Arezzo. Though the family's fortunes are not what they used to be, she is comforted by extended family and is making a place for herself in her new country. When Germany invades Poland, her husband is taken away as a political prisoner, and Kate finds herself forced to retain good relations with her sister-in-law Esmerelda, who has recently married a bureaucrat from Mussolini's fascist regime. Her family ties give her access to the complex social networks of the fascist leaders, even as she worries about her brother, Giles, fighting for the allies, and about her father-in-law, whose aloof disdain of the fascists grows ever more pronounced. "Rivière's plot encompasses plenty of fascinating historical material, particularly Italy's internal divisions during the war," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The "stream-of-consciousness" narration of parts of the book, particularly the sections dealing with the journals Kate keeps for her brother and husband, "produces a radiance of detail and an intensity of heartfelt sorrow," observed GraceAnne A. DeCandido in Booklist.
By the Grand Canal, which is set in 1920s Venice, looks back in time to the days following World War I. Following his participation in the delicate post-war peace negotiations, British diplomat Hugh Thorne decides to remain in Italy rather than return to England, where a stifling, loveless marriage awaits him. Old friends Giacomo and Valentina Venier welcome him into their rundown but cheerful home on the canals. Romantic prospects are greater in Venice, and Hugh has a brief but satisfying affair with opera singer Emanuela. However, his new hedonistic lifestyle is complicated when he is reunited with Violet, his best friend's widow, and her teenage son, who have been evicted from their family home in Britain by her late husband's children from his first marriage. Though Hugh finds it easy to hide from his past life in Italy, he cannot avoid tragedy when another of his closest friends dies and his self-imposed exile comes to an end. The "romances are subtle, the setting is delicately painted," and the postwar time period is "carefully and effectively presented," commented Ann H. Fisher in Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the book a "quiet, richly atmospheric novel" and a "lovely rhapsody of Venice and a stirring philosophical examination of war and its aftermath."
Rivière once told CA: "My wife and I live on an idyllic hillside in Italy. I write about the lands I know and love: England and Italy, Borneo and Burma. I write about what moves me: love affairs and landscapes, the devastation of forest fires and of wars."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 1, 2002, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Kate Caterina, p. 813; December 1, 2005, David Pitt, review of By the Grand Canal, p. 71.
Library Journal, February 1, 2002, David W. Henderson, review of Kate Caterina, p. 133; February 1, 2005, Ann H. Fisher, review of By the Grand Canal, p. 70.
Publishers Weekly, February 25, 2002, review of Kate, Caterina, p. 43; January 3, 2005, review of By the Grand Canal, p. 33.
Spectator, February 5, 1994, Caroline Moore, review of Eros and Psyche, p. 29; October 11, 1997, Caroline Moore, review of Echoes of War, p. 47.
Times Literary Supplement, February 4, 1994, Mark Wormald, review of Eros and Psyche, p. 21; February 24, 1995, Julian Ferraro, review of Borneo Fire, p. 20; September 19, 1997, David Horspool, review of Echoes of War, p. 22.
Fantastic Fiction Web site,http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/ (June 4, 2006), biography of William Rivière.*