Art. Beauty. Paris. The Italian countryside. Okay, there’s a bit of Canada and a marble quarry in David Macfarlane’s The Figures of Beauty too, but for the large part, the Toronto-based author steeps readers in sensuous foreign cultures in his new novel for Harper Collins.
It’s summer of ‘68. It’s a particularly good summer for a young man who travels to Paris and, after a series of unexpected events, finds himself in a small Italian village. Not bad for adventure, but topping it all off, he finds love in this little village – the love of his life, in fact. Although, it took him decades and an unforeseen meeting to realize it.
A honeymooning couple has a chance encounter with a marble merchant who introduces them to the beauties of Carrara. But a freak accident in a marble quarry changes the course of a young boy’s life. As well, an Italian woman arrives in Canada on a mission to find a man she never knew, a man, in an ideal life, she would have called father.
It is this Italian woman, the daughter of a once young traveler named Oliver Hughson and a freewheeling bohemian named Anna, who narrates Macfarlanes’ story which jumps between time and locales. Oliver’s sense of responsibility to his adoptive parents back in Canada ultimately drove him to leave Anna. He regretted his decision ever since – until the daughter he never knew he had decided to seek him out.
The Figures of Beauty is a tale of luck, fate and great fortune that turns around an adulthood of regret, sending Oliver back to the one place and the one woman he should never have left. Macfarlane sculpts several disparate tales into a smooth, rock-solid whole. His ambitions are high, but in a language as rich as the fruits of the scenic landscapes in which he situates his characters and their stories, he pulls off a far grander narrative with skill and intrigue.
David Macfarlane has been a recipient of numerous magazine and newspaper awards, among them a finalist slot for the Giller Prize and winner of the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award for Summer Gone. He also writes a weekly column in the Toronto Star.