Bernini’s Elephant by Jane Callen

Bernini’s Elephant by Jane Callen is a hard-core trip to Italy. The story of Kat, a middle-aged marketing executive from Vancouver, takes place largely throughout Italy. We first meet Kat on a trip to Pompeii where she imagines a woman meeting her end fleeing from the explosive onslaught of Mount Vesuvius. We learn early that Kat is not exactly an innocent widow, instead, she’s a woman with a past. She ditches her travelling companion and heads to Rome where she meets a young artist, Franco, painting in the street near Bernini’s famous sculpture of an elephant. Franco is much younger, handsome, and talented. Kat becomes his sponsor, and they travel back to Vancouver. This trip seals their passion for each other and a turn of events has them separate, with Franco returning to Italy and Kat off to Vancouver Island.

Time passes and Kat becomes a photographer, with a job that has her visiting Italy. There, the two meet again. This time things are more complicated with Franco. He now has a beautiful wife and children, and a wealthy father-in-law who believes in his artistic ability. His father-in-law has thoughts much like Kat’s about Franco achieving great heights in Italy’s famed and prestigious artistic community. There are great demands put on Kat and Franco. Can their love and passion conquer the challenges set before them in the beautiful backdrop of Italy?

Author Jane Callen tried to stir in a mysterious element but it was a bit lacking for me. It was easily forgettable that something did occur that forced Franco and Kat apart in Vancouver, but that is handled as an afterthought in the story. The real story is about their unlikely match as lovers, Kat being the “older woman” from Canada and her much younger, married Italian painter. At first, I struggled to see them as a couple, but it rather grew on me. I did find Callen’s constant reference to Franco as “my painter” repetitious, nearing frustration. This took away from the story and forced me to view Franco as more of a possession belonging to Kat. (Perhaps intended, but not necessary.)

The road to couplehood for Kat and Franco is not an easy one. Besides the years between them, there are more people involved in the young painter’s life and career than it first seems. This keeps Kat on her toes and this is what fuels the story onward. While I was invested in Kat and Franco and their damaged personalities, I had little interest in the backstory of why Franco left Vancouver. This seemed like an add-on, with little story value. The people in Italy and the setting, Kat, her painter, and those characters in their lives are the focus and mainstay of Bernini’s Elephant. This is what kept me engaged in the story. Callen’s writing shines as she describes the many areas in Florence, Venice, Rome, Torcello, and their landmarks with stunning detail. Franco’s passion for his art and his country stays true to his character. Kat’s feelings and insecurities are well-played. Can Kat possibly fit into his life and his world so far from her Canadian home? Will her love of Franco and her help as his patron be enough to keep them together? How much would one couple sacrifice to be together? Their challenges may prove to break them apart even though their hearts feel as if they beat as one.

While I loved aspects of Bernini’s Elephant – the settings, the passion, the art-talk – the story felt burdened with the mystery element. Jane Callen did a wonderful job with the characters in Italy, which is where the story peaks and where it has a consistent flow. If you are looking for a literary escape to Italy, a love story between an unlikely couple, an artist’s passion, and some dramatic turns of events, then pick up a copy of Bernini’s Elephant by Jane Callen.

Managing Editor

TMR’s Managing Editor Carrie Stanton has a BA in Political Science from the University of Calgary. She is the author of The Jewel and Beast Bot, and picture books, Emmie and the Fierce Dragon and The Gardener. Carrie loves to write stories that grow wings and transport readers everywhere.  She reads and enjoys stories from every genre.

Jane Callen’s short fiction has appeared in print and online magazines. An Italophile, Italy and her people feature in Jane’s writings. Bernini’s Elephant is her debut novel. A member of The Writers Union of Canada, Federation of BC Writers and Association of Italian Canadian Writers, Jane resides in Vancouver, BC.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Guernica Editions (May 1 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 254 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771837845
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771837842