The Villa in Italy
By: Elizabeth Edmondson
Four strangers are summoned to the Villa Dante, a beautiful but now avandoned house above the Ligurian coast. Each has been named in the will of the intriguing Beatrice Malaspina; not one of them knows who she is. Delia, an opera singer; Geroge, an atom scientist from Cambridge; Marjorie, a detective novelist; and Lucius, a Bostom banker, come to Italy, only to find that the mystery deepens.
Spring flowers into the joy of an Italian summer, and the Villa Dante, with its frescoes and once-magnificent gardens, comes back to life. As water flows again through the cascades and fountains, the four visit the mediaeval tower close ot the house, and find themselves face t face with their troubled pasts ina way they never could have foreseen.
The villa works its magic and slowly they are changed, as the sorrows of their wartime experiences grow into the possibility of hope. Now they can receive their unexpected inheritance and, as devastating secrets are finally revealed, the even greater gift of a new life.
I’ve said it a few times here and there but this book has been on my want-to-read list for a long time. The premise sounded interesting and who can resist a setting like an Italian villa on the coast? It took a while but I was finally able to snag a copy of the novel so whoo! =) This novel also falls under the I Love Italy reading challenge that I’m currently participating in. Contains some spoilers ahead!
I think I mentioned this somewhere before but I had a sense that this novel was going to be a character drama more than anything else. The principal characters involved all find their way to Villa Dante by the will and testament of Beatrice Malaspina carrying their own set of personal baggage and demons (including Jessica, who was not named in Beatrice’s will but nonetheless is connected to Delia’s personal story and is escaping her own troubles). They are quite an intriguing group especially as they all have different temperments; if these people met anywhere else in the world I’m sure they would not have gotten along at all–especially Marjorie whom I was especially aggravating at first–but these circumstances surrounding the will and spending time in the villa definitely enabled them to look beyond their social and work positions and their own prejudices and other issues and not only cooperate but also become friends. They are also connected through the mysterious Beatrice Malaspina, a mystery that also lies at the heart of the story; it was actually pretty fun to unravel the mystery and find out how it was that these individuals were connected to her.
As mentioned there’s a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to these characters. Delia’s family problems were a lot more deeply rooted than I initially thought when the character was first introduced and in fact her health problems (which prevent her from continuing her work as an opera singer at present) are but a small problem. I admit that I was rather protective of the character even when she was acting a little too distrustful of everyone; knowing why she was the way she was, you can’t really blame her for not opening up to everyone. Marjorie’s backstory was surprising because she did initially come off as…well, as everyone else put it, a person with “a chip on her shoulder.” How she came to be that initially bitter and simultaneously eerie person was interesting and I did not expect that; I only thought she was having some major writer’s block. Although Lucius came late to the party, I thought his backstory about what happened in the war was rather compelling and who he came across during his assignments was also interesting (coincidence? Fate?).
I wished the author spent more time on George though; we learn about his personal demons with his association to the Manhattan project but as the reader we never get to follow him around the same way we follow Delia or Marjorie. We know he goes off to town every morning to attend Mass and he’s always the level-headed one of the group (you kind of want to just hug him for triyng to keep the peace whenever tempers flaired up) but his decision at the end of the novel could have been more satisfying (rather than a bit of a surprise) had we actually followed him more closely. As the fourth person of the people invited to the villa, I’m surprised that we spent less time with him compared to Jessica, who was not named in the will but we know more about.
The story itself was a pleasant read, weaving in and out between the characters’ personal struggles and drama with them discovering the various aspects of the villa grounds. I wished the characters had more interaction with the locals; after all, the story is set in Italy. You also get little moments here and there reminding you about the time period that this novel is set in–around the 1950s, the Cold War is well underway–but otherwise the story is more or less encased in a bubble, away from the larger issues happening around the world. However, I wished that the ending was not as hurried as it was presented and that the author had taken her time to spread out the events the way she did for three-fourths of the novel. People just started popping up every other day at the villa in search for one character or the other that it seemed rather comedic. But the big reveal about who Beatrice Malaspina was and what was contained in the codicil happened a little too fast for my liking and as a result the conclusion of everyone’s respective storylines did not feel as satisfying as it could have been.
Overall, I enjoyed reading The Villa in Italy. The characters were well-rounded, complete with their own flaws and strengths and personal backstories. Their experiences from the Second World War is never too far from their minds but the setting really has a way of cutting you off from the grander scale of happenings in Europe and the rest of the world. I would recommend this novel if you’re looking for a story with a lot of internal and character drama.