Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Vanishing Point by Louise Hawes

(In which it was almost perfect.)

***

I don’t really love bread. But when it comes to pan de coco, it’s another story – especially if the bread is still warm and the coco filling is sweet and thick and juicy I could die. Not all my pan de coco experiences are the same, though. There were times when I regretted buying that piece of hard, chewy bread with barely a filling in the core.

Eating pan de coco (or anything you like, actually) is just like reading. We can attribute the reading experience to the best, the so-so and the worst meal we’ve had. With The Vanishing Point, by the way, I had to take the middle road.

This novel by Louise Hawes unfurls with a tarot reading foretelling death and darkness in the Fontana family, then blossoms into the coming-of-age adventures of the young Lavinia Fontana, daughter of the mannerist painter Prospero Fontana. She grows up in a family where everything is scrutinized by the meticulous and stern Prospero. She spends most of her time learning Latin and sewing. And she does them all well. What she really wants, however, is to paint. But in a society where artisans are males and females are for domestic and oftentimes ornamental duties, a female painter in her father’s bottega could be a scandal. So she seeks help from the innocent Gian Paolo Zappi, a wealthy student of her father, to steal pens, papers and ink for her to practice drawing. It is when the treachery surfaces that blessings and trials emerge, one after another.



Now what makes reading The Vanishing Point like a pan de coco- eating moment is this: Imagine a soft plump, shiny bread still warm from the oven. The aroma fills your nostrils and makes your mouth water. You took a bite, and were convinced that this is one of the best coconut-filled bread you’ve tasted. You bit some more, savoring the filling that was the essence of it and then realized that the bread has more bread than filling. Yes, it’s getting to the best part and then finding out that the best part has actually gone in one fleeting moment. You read and read and, filled with the hopes and the thrill that there are more stories to be told and revelations to be made, you’ve reached the last page.

But perhaps what this book really wants to offer is that self-same chasing-for-the-best-part-feeling. That the best part is really where it ends – bravery and understanding amidst frustration and lunacy.

***

It’s a little bit embarrassing to have purchased this book just now. But after a long reading hiatus, any spine-and-page construction other than the academic ones could be highly cathartic. Especially this.