“She has come to Villa il Palmerino, betrayed and alone, to write about love.”
-Melissa Pritchard, Palmerino
I arrived having only the slightest inclination of what to expect. A former student of Melissa’s, I have grown accustomed to her animated readings and her unbounded enthusiasm towards creation. However, it was on this night that I would finally be hearing my professor read her own work. The evening started as Melissa lit candles, sipped wine, and greeted audience members who came to hear her read at Changing Hands Bookstore. Here, she was no teacher, but rather an artist sharing her work with me, the reader. There was no need to teach or explain and no need to answer questions. There was only Melissa and the page in front of her.
Our audience was about fifty people. We took our seats and quietly discussed what we had in store for the evening: Palmerino. Pritchard’s fourth novel is set in rural Italy and follows the protagonist, a present-day biographer and writer, Sylvia, through a time-transcending journey of discovery that unfolds both her own life and the life of her subject, the poet Vernon Lee. Palmerino explores sexuality and emotion while inviting the reader to get thoroughly lost in the gracefully assembled Italian dreamscape of both past and present.
We enjoyed refreshments and biscotti provided by Pritchard to help further immerse ourselves into her novel’s 19th century Italian setting. She read with power and beauty, adjusting her tone to distinguish between characters and narration. Pritchard’s writing is lyrical. Each word is carefully chosen and allows her to paint deliberate, detailed pictures in the reader’s mind. Throughout the book, tones shift as we slip back and forth through both time and voice.
The poeticism of the writing is obviously characteristic of Pritchard as it worked effortlessly with her theatric reading. From the excerpt she read, we learned of a dinner party with Vernon Lee, her family, and her lover Clementina, or Kit. They dined on sweet antiquities and spoke of passion and truth of the time period.
Pritchard’s voice guided us back in time to this wondrous place of enchantment and poetic love, and with her, if just for a moment, we escaped.