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Novel set in Puglia, Italy (a relatively recent troubled past )

8th July 2015

The Night Falling by Katherine Webb, novel set in Puglia, Italy in the 1920s.

IMG_0860Leandro Cardetta, born into abject poverty in Puglia, has made a fortune in America and subsequently returned to his childhood home with a glamorous and rather spoilt wife, Marcie.  There he sets about restoring a crumbling palazzo helped by well-known English architect, Boyd Kingsley, who brings with him his teenage son Pip and his second wife, the rather shy and retiring Clare.

Outside the comfort and comparative luxury of the palazzo, the men labour to cultivate the unyielding land under the blazing sun of southern Italy. Veterans of the Great War, they returned to their homeland with promises of some land and a living wage, but instead are faced with minimal wages and harsh overseers. The landowners feel under threat because of the rather futile socialist attempts to organise the workforce, and turn to the fascists for support with predictably violent consequences.  Leandro’s nephew, Ettore, is one of these starving poor with the additional grief of mourning his fiancée who was brutally raped and died as a result of her injuries.  Ettore is too proud to ask his rich uncle for help until an injury leaves him no choice; it is either turn to Leandro for help or see his sister and baby nephew starve.  When Webb brings all these characters together under one roof, as she does at the beginning of the novel, you know it can’t end well.

In fact, the whole novel positively seethes with tension throughout.  Webb’s depiction of the social and political atmosphere of the time is masterful.  At times, it makes for an uncomfortable read, as she describes in graphic detail the hardships endured by the local workers and their families and the brutality of the punishments inflicted on the rebellious workers by the fascisti.  Without any doubt, this is a gripping read.  There are so many questions that need to be answered and so many characters who have things to hide.  How did Cardetta make his money in America?  What is the hold that he has over Boyd?  Why is he so insistent that Clare and Pip stay in Italy despite the growing threat of violence?  It would be a good enough read if it was just a thrilling story but it is also a very well written one, full of powerful description and imagery.

Puglia is a part of Italy I have always wanted to visit, without knowing much about it, other than that it is home to those charming looking whitewashed trullo houses which feature prominently in any tourist brochure.  Katherine Webb’s novel, drawing heavily on real events, teaches you much about the area’s history and it feels as if it would be a very wise thing to have read up about the history before you visit. It is difficult to believe that such a relatively recent troubled past should not have left its scars in the landscape and in the mindset of its people and I, for one, will tread more respectfully when I do visit for having read this novel.

Ellen for the TripFiction Team

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