- Book: The Corsican Widow
- Location: Corsica
- Author: Vanessa Couchman
The author creates a good historical setting for the storyline. The book opens in 1755, a time when Corsica was ruled by the Genoese; in 1768 it came under French rule but the locals never let their culture and spirit be squashed by their masters. The author sets her story against this backdrop, with the rugged, often starkly sublime colour of the island beautifully portrayed.
The Corsican Widow is loosely based on a true story. Young Valeria, a country girl, is married off to a considerably older man, Santucci, who is wealthy and respected and treats her well, but she is nevertheless subservient to him, the traditional position of women at that point in time. The couple moves from her small village to fictional Zaronza. She also slides in a character from the time, Pasquale Paoli, who seeks independence and who meets with Santucci.
As might be anticipated from the title, however, Valeria is soon widowed. She tries to manage Santucci’s ending by brewing a cocktail of herbs to ease his pain (she learned her considerable skills of healing with herbs from Margherita, a local in her village). Towards the end of his life she even resorts to sorcery, finding a woman who could drive out the evil eye that has taken over her husband’s ailing body. But he nevertheless passes away and tradition dictates that she must remain in the house for 3 months and wear black for the foreseeable future. A very lonely existence.
Her husband’s shepherd Benedettu Colonna caught Valeria’s attention when she first arrived in Zaronza, those piercing blue eyes, that scar… the frisson of connection between these two was evident from the outset. There is scant build-up to anything meaningful developing between the two, and it is a rather curt and improbable coupling between Benedettu and Valeria one rainy evening which moves the story forward, loneliness driving these two to subterfuge in an era and culture when morals are dictated by the men in government. Accused of poisoning her husband – retribution for her relationship with Benedettu – she has to be extremely resourceful. Most of her family members choose to disown her and it is only her brother Antone on whom she can rely.
Moving on to Marseille, Valeria has to rethink her life, and serendipitous encounters enable her to create a new life away from Corsica, although the island is etched into her heart and mind.
A well written and easy read, The Corsican Widow enables the reader to gain a bit of historical perspective.