Caroline Jackson

‘The Politics of Washing: Real Life in Venice’, by Polly Coles - review

'The Politics of Washing: Real Life in Venice', by Polly Coles - review
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Master your disappointment. The Politics of Washing: Real Life in Venice (Hale, £9.99) is as far from the fantasy-relocation genre of hapless writer transposed to sunny European idyll with cast of gurning locals and comic anecdotes involving insects as Prospero’s unnamed island was from Stratford. Mercifully, Polly Coles stuck to a year’s tenancy; she and her Italian husband were gainfully employed, her children are normal and she can write, fantastically well.

Having a lot of baggage in Venice isn’t great — it trips you up, impedes your enjoyment and sours your reception as you lug and lumber. Coles clearly has ample knowledge but also the wit to have travelled light. Paradoxically, her present-tense search for the ‘real’ Venice, where children dislike school and have birthdays, people do washing and spy on their neighbours and the floods are shitty not cinematic, makes this more cerebral than most Venetian travelogues or fictions — plus there’s a cheering dearth of the usual peril, death or heartbreak.

Her misanthropic postman is ‘a Venetian Eeyore who knows that everything will go to the bad if it hasn’t already’; time has the mutability of Tom’s Midnight Garden, a diminutive contessa inhabits her palazzo ‘as though she were one of the Borrowers’.  A tangle of intimacy, more Tiggywinkle than Titian, Venice deserves this dose of perspicacious pragmatism.