- Book: This Changes Everything
- Location: Rome, United Kingdom
- Author: Helen McGinn
Julia has two grown-up daughters, Annie and Jess, who struggle with their mother’s spontaneity – to wit her tendency to leap into marriage. Julia announces that she is going to Rome to meet with an old friend called Patrick, for a catch up after many years and the two of them generally want to just hang out together in the eternal city, not forgetting that they are due to scatter the ashes of a close mutual friend from long ago. Patrick was, as it turns out, Julia’s first love.
Jess, for one, is up a height and proposes they follow their mother to the city and stalk her, to ensure her well-being. After all, a woman of her mature years can’t look after herself and woe betide she ends up getting hitched. Again. Game on and the two sisters are about to check into their hotel but a sinkhole has developed, causing a vertical crack in the hotel building (sinkholes are really common in Rome, by the way). All the guests have had to be moved, including their mother. They have no idea now where she is staying (she has in fact decamped to Trastevere), so it is quite some fluke that they find her in this city of 3 million souls. They are only there for about 56 hours.
There is food with plenty of vino stops and visits to wonderful sites around the city, and art and ancients ruins aplenty. The sights and sounds are all there and vividly captured. Rome works its magic and it’s lovely to be there with them as a reader, particularly during Lockdown. There is however a considerable secret lurking, awaiting revelation and they return to their various homes around the UK, each a changed person. Secrets in the family are usually hugely divisive and the fallout would inevitably be significant – here it all pretty much got swept under the carpet as the book moves into the next part of the story and its conclusion.
What the author does particularly well is dovetail all the strands, so that the story has real cohesion. She looks back to Julia’s early life, when she spent a lot of time with her Aunt Tessa because Julia and her mother so often didn’t see eye to eye. She then picks up on the progression of the story as it unfolds in the present. She also has a gentle and singular voice and you can hear how much she is invested in her story and characters. This is a nice family narrative that will transport you to Rome.
And, I will say it…. this is a pretty awful cover and I wouldn’t be tempted to pick it up from the cover alone but hopefully it will work for others.