- Book: An Italian Affair
- Location: Tuscany
- Author: Caroline Montague
It is 1939 and Alessandra Marston is trying to come to terms with the death of her beloved English husband, Anthony, when she learns that she has inherited the ancestral family home, Villa Durante, set in the Tuscan hills. London, on the brink of war, seems to hold little promise for Alessandra and her two children, sixteen-year-old Robert and fourteen-year-old Diana, particularly since Anthony’s untimely death has left the family impoverished, so Alessandra decides to move to Italy and begin rebuilding her life.
Robert, however, is settled and happy at his English school and, through the generosity of Douglas Gordon, Anthony’s best friend and Robert’s godfather, is able to stay there and continue his education, so Alessandra and Diana set out alone. They find a villa in need of loving attention and an estate much in need of improvement, but also a loyal and trustworthy estate manager in Signora Carducci who is to prove to be a wonderful housekeeper and friend. Life at the Villa Durante turns out to be hard work but exactly what Alessandra has needed to help her get over her loss. But this is Italy with Mussolini in charge and even in the idyllic Tuscan countryside the growing Fascist movement is evident and Alessandra’s house soon becomes refuge for those fleeing from persecution. To complicate matters further, Diana has fallen in love with Davide, a young Jewish boy, who has a secret he is desperate to keep from discovery.
Back in England, war breaks out and Robert enlists to train as a pilot, determined to defend his country. His bravery is soon evident and he is selected to train as a Special Operation Executive, is sent to Italy to help those fighting the Fascists and soon finds himself in even greater danger.
This is a fairly weighty book, and I often think that a book of 500 odd pages could benefit from a judicious pruning but this is not the case with An Italian Affair.This is a rattling good tale that moves at some lick from start to finish, packed with action and fascinating detail. I particularly enjoyed the account of Robert’s experience as a Spitfire pilot and his subsequent undercover work. Caroline Montague has clearly engaged in a lot of meticulous research into The Battle of Britain and the work of Special Operations in the Second World War.
The setting, too, is wonderfully created – not just the bucolic beauty of the Tuscan countryside in the 1940s but also the sinister atmosphere of the all-pervasive threat of fascism. The writer manages to convey, as Alessandra herself explains, the sense of “a dichotomy, that extraordinary beauty and staggering cruelty could coexist in one place.”
All in all, An Italian Affair is that rare thing – a great read that has something for everyone, whether your preference is for romance, war, adventure or espionage.