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Novel set in Tuscany (& USA) (Bella Toscana!)

17th March 2014

To Tuscany with Love by Gail Mencini set in Tuscany.

I doubt whether I would have come to this novel set in Tuscany if I it hadn’t been for TripFiction and all the work we are doing collating books to feature on the website (books, of course, that are strong on locale, which this one truly is!). That, of course, is the wonderfully serendipitous nature of the book world and of what we do at TF, and I love it for that very reason. We come across so many books that sometimes never make to it to the show tables of your local bookstore, or, through lack of luck but not lack of talent, simply haven’t made it onto the influential lists.

193859200X.01.ZTZZZZZZIf you like Tuscany, and you like budding relationship encounters (with an edgy adolescent flair), a bit of romance, and a novel that evokes this gorgeous part of the world, then this might be right up your ‘via’.

A diverse group of students come together as they spend a Semester in Florence, roughly in the 1970s, and we observe how friendships develop and sexual partners hook up within the group. Initially, it is the story of young people finding their place in the world, as they assimilate themselves into Italian culture and explore their surroundings. The next part of the book moves swiftly through their lives, when they have all returned to live in the USA, until they hit late middle age. Out of the blue each receives an invitation to revisit their time in Tuscany. A First Class Ticket, together with gorgeous accommodation is the fantastic lure, sent out to all by one anonymous member of the group – though that person is soon identified.

The parts in the book set in Tuscany at the beginning and the end feel like two solid bookends, with superb attention to local detail, and cradle the, at times, ephemeral ‘lives lived’ in the USA in the middle. The central part feels like a ‘gloss over’ to enable the plot to move from Tuscany at the beginning, back to Tuscany three decades later at the end.

It is so clear that Gail loves Italy, you can feel it through her prose, and she really does a good job of transporting the reader to locale, espresso no doubt in hand. Oh, the culture and feel of the region, right down to the cobbled alleyways and the odd vespa. It is a debut novel which has much promise for any follow up books that she may have in the pipeline.

I read this book with pleasure, because it does have a real spark to it, it moves along well and has good pace. The element that perhaps detracted a little but didn’t marr the overall enjoyment, was the intensity and level of bonding between members of the group at their first encounter. Stillman, Bella, Phillip et al hung out together, held hands an awful lot, had sex, engaged in a great deal of breast ogling, and explored the notion of what it might be to be ‘in love’, back-slapped and palmed each other – as adolescents do – but not sufficiently deeply to warrant them choosing to regroup after decades, with little or no contact; and particularly after some questionable behaviour that occurred between some group members then and now! Would Bella really have wanted to see Phillip again, or for that matter rambunctious Rune? I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to have set records straight with one self centred character, nor would I have want to spend more time with another character who, although ill, came across as an incontrovertible schmuck.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

You can catch up with the characters on Gail’s website where you can meet them and put a face to the name, sample some of Bella’s Tastes of Tuscany and so much more.

Come and join the Tripfiction community over on Twitter, Facebook and our collated Tuscany titles on Pinterest – come and add reviews (this can really help authors get their work ‘out there’), suggest books that are strong on locale and join the dialogue!

PS. Spotted the polyglot wordplay in the title?


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