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Art History in "Within These Walls" by Ania Ahlborn (Part 1)

Updated on October 26, 2017
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When I'm not being a photographer, a dancer, or making jewelry, I write. Specifically art history. I plan on writing about other subjects.

Rome, Italy


Summary and what I liked about it.

I checked out this book while perusing the horror section of my library app. It is about a True Crime writer who gets roped into an imprisoned cult leader's mysterious scheme.

To begin the review, let me lay out what I enjoyed about the novel. I liked some of the horror scenes Ahlborn wove into the story. I found them both imaginative and unnerving. I also found the way she gradually moved the plot's mystery to its eventual reveal and climax well written.

After this photo, you will know why I am putting up photos of Rome, Italy in this article.


Somebody hates the Eternal City.

While I found the novel's plot structure solid, I had issues with some other parts of the novel. To start, the beginning of the book introduces a troubled marriage between True Crime writer Lucas Graham and his soon-to-be ex-wife Caroline. While arguing with Caroline, Lucas stews on a bad honeymoon in Rome, Italy that they took part in. There, he describes a Rome so bizarre and so not the Rome that I spent a month studying abroad in the summer of 2007.

He complained that the restaurants in Rome were too expensive. As a student who lived there for a month, I know that one can find affordable restaurants in Rome. Lucas even insisted that he and Caroline couldn't even sit down in a restaurant without the prices going up. I was a student living on coupons provided by the school program, and I ate good, affordable food. Furthermore, did these two very unprepared Americans not look up affordable restaurants online or in travel guides? I'm sure they do exist. Graham, a man claiming that he knew how to research old crimes, couldn't be bothered to go online and or go look for books on how to deal with such a matter.

As I neared the novel's conclusion, Graham repeats word-for-word his dislike of Rome's expensive atmosphere. As though doing so would make these fantastical claims true.

Graham also found Rome "dirty". As someone who has lived there, the only time I found Rome not very clean was when I went traveling beyond the city and saw the smog hanging over the cityscape. Then something else happened. Graham dismissed the numerous collections of sculptures that dotted Rome as "some weird Roman theme park".

Do you now understand why?


Sneering at centuries worth of art history.

That's right, the Eternal City, home of hundreds of years’ worth of art that molded and shaped art history, sneered at by a person, who being a True Crime writer who described himself as having a fascination with nasty bygone times, completely ignored the Eternal City's history of violence, corruption, and depravity. I have known people who did not like Rome, but they had reasons that were rooted in sane logic, and I didn't argue with it. Here? Graham's hatred seems rooted in fantasy.

More odd claims occur. Because he suspects that his wife is having an affair, Lucas imagines Caroline and her lover committing full on adultery while visiting the Pantheon. As someone who has visited the Pantheon, I question the logic of people doing such a thing in one of the most tourist heavy sites in Rome. Since the book does not establish Caroline and her lover as exhibitionist thrillseekers who delight in public trysts, this wild fantasy conjured up by Lucas ends up making no sense at all.

However, I did once see a couple make out on the steps of a church across the street from a bus stop, but it was in the middle of the night, and there were no crowds around.

He also characterized Rome as "romantic" which puzzled me. If you want a romantic Italian city, go to Venice. It's quiet, relatively clean, and the only time I ever wanted a romantic partner to share the moment with me.

Yes, while I am aware Roman Holiday was a romantic comedy, in my opinion, it did not really depict Rome as a romantic city. More of a nice, freeing jaunt about the Eternal City.

Part of "some weird Roman theme park".


Other Art History References.

Other miscellaneous art history references abound in this book. Early on, Caroline is mentioned for wanting a family life similar to what's found in Norman Rockwell paintings. Graham negatively compares a woman's facial features to an artwork by Picasso. He also imagines another person's home full of Catholic religious icons. When contemplating a change in career, he thinks about going to the Taj Mahal in an attempt to compete with his traveling, soon to be separated wife for their daughter's admiration. While he does not have in depth education in art, Graham does pay attention to the more well known icons of art history.

Feel free to check out the book yourself.

© 2017 Catherine


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