THE SILENT GONDOLIERS
by William Goldman
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
This review will begin with a disclaimer. I first read The Silent Gondoliers in 1993 and have lobbied the editors and publishers at Del Rey to reprint the book ever since. I'm glad to say that William Goldman's novella stands up to another reading after all these years.
According to Goldman's alter ego, "S. Morgenstern," the gondoliers no longer sing while they ply their trade in Venice. This novella is his attempt to provide an explanation for the cessation of this legendary practice. To this end, Goldman write about his researches into the life of Luigi and the Great Storm which rocked Venice in the early years of the twentieth century.
Luigi, it seems, was the greatest gondolier ever to stand on a boat. His one inadequacy was his inability to carry a tune, which made him anathema to the other gondoliers in Venice despite his personality. It was because of this inability that the other gondoliers eventually chose to stop singing.
Getting to this explanation, however, Goldman introduces tangents and side stories about characters as legendary as Luigi, mixing the real-life opera singer Enrico Caruso and the fictional "Porky VIII," proprietor of the Gondolier's Tavern. In fact, it is these side stories that really make The Silent Gondoliers a memorable and enjoyable book. They give Goldman the opportunity to include whatever humor he felt like, as long as he could tie it in to his main story. This also allows for a greater examination of the role of legends in real life as well as the legends he has had to create for the book.
For all the humor in The Silent Gondoliers, Goldman does have a lot to say about the way legends are maintained by people who have a stake in them. Starting with the beginning of the novel, he makes it clear that Venice is very particular about maintaining its reputation among tourists. Later, when Goldman "interviews" descendents of The Great Sorrento or the man who named "The Killer Storm," it is clear that they will say whatever is necessary to promote the version of the story which will reflect best on their ancestors or themselves, whatever the reality of the situation may have been.
Although the cover of this reprint edition is different, Del Rey has included the numerous interior illustrations by Paul Giovanopoulos which graced the original edition and which give a better feel for the story Goldman relates.
It has taken more than seventeen years for a paperback edition of The Silent Gondoliers to be released. While it may have been wished that this book were more readily available during the intervening years (particular after the release of the film "The Princess Bride"), it is now available to a wider readership who can pick it up and introduce themselves to Goldman's enchanting characters and situations.
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