- Book: The Favour
- Location: Italy
- Author: Laura Vaughan
Ada Howell doesn’t quite fit. Educationally, socially, at every turn in her young life…she justseems to miss out.
Deprived of her father and the beloved family home in Wales when she was only thirteen, not going to the right school, failing to get in to Oxford. They all combine to leave her wanting more, and the opportunity she’s craving arrives when Ada’s wealthy godmother Delilah offers to pay for a posh art history trip to Italy, run by Dilettante Discoveries:
‘Our courses seem tailor-made for those interested in pursuing a career in the arts, but in fact our students come from a range of disciplines.To enjoy the Dilettante experience, all you need is an open mind, a love of beauty and curiosity about the world. And it’s not just about the learning, of course, we’re known for inspiring life-long friendships, as well as a passion for art.’
Ada finds herself amongst the people she aspires to be: privileged, cultured and effortlessly at ease with themselves. In Florence and in Rome, whether in palazzos, churches, villas or restaurants, she sets out to ingratiate herself into their orbit, studying their interactions, individual strengths and weaknesses, and planning how she can gain an advantage.
The Favour is granted after a tragic accident happens to Mallory, an American in the Dilettante group, in a run-down Venetian palazzo to celebrate the end of the trip. But will it all unravel 10 years later, when the group is invited by Mallory’s family to a memorial party back in Venice?
This is author Laura Vaughan’s first novel for adults, after having published eleven books for children and young adults. I must confess I struggled a little with the first part of the book, while Ada was in Italy with her fellow Dilettantes. None of the characters is particularly appealing, and Ada is as calculating as a devious politician:
‘Meanwhile, I was waiting to see which of the girls Lorcan would go for. Willa was the obvious choice, but whatever they might have got up to at school, she and Lorcan shared a matey camaraderie devoid of sexual tension. This left Petra the front-runner . I was relieved by this. Willa was too much of a bruiser for me to make any headway with. Petra, however, had potential. I thought I detected a thread of anxiety in the theatricality of her gestures and the outrageousness of her gestures.’
But back in the UK, as Ada’s own life and career evolve and as the distance from Italy grows, the ramifications of The Favour bubble under nicely, until the dramatic – and surprising – conclusion back in La Serenissima.
The author’s own background in Classics and Art History shine through every well written page, and TripFiction lovers will find themselves transported to la dolce vita with effortlessly intelligent prose:
‘At one point, I found myself in the church of San Zaccaria, standing before the Bellini altarpiece. I hadn’t ever consciously believed in an afterlife, let alone a Christian one, but if I were to acknowledge what my idea of heaven was like, I realised it was an improbably literal pilgrimage through the landscapes of Italian renaissance art. In my imagining, the souls of the saved inhabited a kind of celestial advent calendar, framed in gold, in which one could pass serenely from scene to scene.’