For my book on the Caucasus, I think I lost around thirty pounds while doing my research. Luckily, my next book, the Masquerade was set in Italy and I gained all my weight back. I think this is the most direct novel I’ve written, in so far as themes and characters that crop up again and again in everything I’ve written are met head-on here. No matter what I think I set out to write, I end up writing about blame, pretense, posturing and self-deceit. The Masquerade is set during the Grand Tour and it struck me at once how well disposed the situation was to the subjects I inevitably write about.
All of the travelers to Italy in the eighteenth century had to deal with societies that were alien to their own. Travel was not the rapid whirlwind we now consider it and the privileged pilgrims of the 18th century had to find their own feet in cities in which they might dwell for weeks, if not months at a time. For the young it was a chance to try to embrace adulthood and self-invention. Once I’d understood that, the plot involving mimicry and mistrust was much easier to slip into place.