When prize-winning author Rachel Cusk decides to travel to Italy for a summer with her husband and two young children she has no idea of the trials and wonders that lie in store. Their journey leads them to both the expected - the Piero della Francesca trail and queues at the Vatican - and the surprising - an amorous Scottish ex-pat and a longing for home - all seen through Cusk's sharp and humane perspective. Exploring the desire to travel and to escape, art and its inspirations, beauty and ugliness, and the challenge of balancing domestic life with creativity, The Last Supper is a wonderful travel book about life on the most famous art trail in the world, from one of Britain's most pre-eminent writers.
English novelist Cusk (Arlington Park) delivers a relatively humorless account of traveling with her husband and two children over three warm months in Italy, from Tuscany to Naples and Rome. She was in search of beauty, because she felt afflicted by England's bland obtuseness nurtured by a cold climate and unappetizing food, and felt Italy's pull through the characters in Tintoretto's painting The Last Supper. Driving through Italy, the family (her husband is mentioned only once; thereafter he is only part of the collective we ) stayed longest in Arezzo, a pastoral spot in eastern Tuscany, where Cusk found herself on a trail named after the 15th-century painter Piero della Francesca; she felt herself on the edge of an ocean of knowledge that required complete immersion. Armed with Vasari's Lives of the Artists, she trekked to find these early Renaissance works of art, many reproduced here (as well as the family's own picturesque snapshots) and records her sympathetic impressions; of Cimabue's tremendously moving portrait of St. Francis, she writes what could also be the artist's visionary declaration: I am nothing. I am everything. Her observations of the ex-pat community and foreign tourists are critical and grumpy, and the last leg, through Pompeii and Rome, feels anticlimactic.