Antonio Dorigi is a successful architect in Milan, nearing fifty, who has always been afraid of women. He has been a regular at an upscale brothel for years, even as he mourns the lack of close female companionship in his life.
One afternoon, the madam at the brothel introduces Tonio to “a new girl,” Laide (short for Adelaide). Tonio sees nothing especially remarkable about Laide, though it intrigues him that she dances at La Scala and also at a strip club, and yet in a very short time he becomes completely obssessed with her.
Laide draws Antonio on, confounds him, uses and humiliates him, treats him tenderly from time to time, lies to him, makes no apologies to him, and he loves her ever more. This helpless and hopeless love is what he is, he feels, even as it prevents him—we see—from ever seeing Laide for who she is. Because Who is she? is the question at the heart of Buzzati’s clear-eyed and often comic tale of infatuation.
Laide is a young woman who has never known the bourgeois prosperity Tonio takes for granted, someone in a pickle looking for a main chance. She is a storyteller and someone, too, who knows how stories tell on people and shape their desires and lives.
Is A Love Affair a love story or is it a story of anything but love? Buzzati’s novel, with its psychological subtleties, its vivid cityscapes, and its compassion, keeps the reader guessing till the end.