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Historical novel set mainly in VIAREGGIO

26th April 2022

The Good Left Undone by Adriana Trigiani, historical novel set mainly in Viareggio across the 20th Century.

Historical novel set mainly in VIAREGGIO

The novel spans a century of family dynamics, set in the small town of Viareggio (on the coast of Tuscany), Marseille and Scotland. This is, essentially, a novel with fundamental Italian flavour. The story moves around the last 100 years or so, unfurling the dynamics of one family featured at the heart of the novel, and their interactions and connections.

As the book opens, there is a story of an elephant working in a ruby mine in India, a story – fable – that has passed down the generations, Each generation has adapted and changed the tenet to suit the mood of the era, and now elderly matriarch Matelda is struggling to remember the detail of the story told to her in her younger days. Creating jewellery is in the family’s blood and therefore the notion of rubies is central to the family’s sense of who they are.

She is now at the end of her life and wants the family around her to know about the things that have mattered and the events that have informed and moulded the individual family members over the years. Her jewellery box is one way of tapping into notable events and sharing the past in a conscious and tactile way.

The book looks back to Matelda’s mother’s life and her experiences in WW2, how she left her home and worked in Marseille and Scotland and eventually returned home. The story does move back and forth over the decades which requires a reader’s intense focus. It is a character driven narrative style that reflects the sometimes messy and non-linear dynamic of family and so in that sense it works well.

The author really conveys a terrific sense of place, down to architectural detail, weather patterns, and the sights, sounds and smells of Italy over the years really lift off the page. This author is known as an inventive and dedicated writer of locale, she uses an optimum amount of Italian to conjure up an atmosphere and getting that balance right can be incredibly difficult (which is a hard thing to do – read our thoughts on using foreign words and phrases here).

For me the characters didn’t always quite lift off the page, so sometimes I had to work quite hard to differentiate.  I felt at times as though I was an interloper peering through a gauze at the goings-on on the page. There are, though, many fantastic qualities in this novel, the writing is wonderful  and the skilled storytelling demonstrates experience and subtlety. Given the setting and storyline I really wanted to like the novel more than I actually did, at times it just didn’t feel fully accessible to me. It is a quietly unassuming novel, however, that will have broad appeal for many.

Tina for the TripFiction Team


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