“Respect love for the gift it is.“
- Book: It Happened in Tuscany
- Location: Denver, Tuscany
- Author: Gail Mencini
I don’t know whether to begin this review with the compelling storyline, the authentic and engaging characters, or the amazing narrative and dialogue, which draws it all together.
This is a story which evokes so many feelings during its reading, covering just about every emotion in the spectrum, as this gentle rollercoaster of a journey, reaches its conclusion, ending not necessarily the way I might have envisioned or wanted for my own gratification, but exactly right for the characters author Gail Mencini has created.
So many times when an author breaks their book down into small, bite-sized chapters, the story can become a little clipped and choppy. However Gail uses the short chapters almost as natural breaks in the narrative and dialogue, where the reader can just draw breath, before moving on as if nothing had happened. For me personally, as someone who inevitably ends up reading in short bursts, this worked great, as I could read ‘just one more chapter’, before dashing out of the house in the morning.
The story is divided into two distinct time periods, with minimal overlap, so that I was not continually being taken back and forth between the two. A different approach to that which many authors take when writing in multiple timelines, yet it worked so well and engaged me fully in both periods, without overwhelming. I knew exactly where I stood in the storyline and I felt I was treated to a much less frenetic pace of travel through my reading.
The gripping, opening World War II sequences, where we first encounter Will and his comrades, are visually descriptive and emotionally draining, as words and deeds are so vividly and powerfully committed to paper. Will’s fight to survive is desperately intense and succeeds very much against the odds, all portrayed to the reader through Gail’s skilled writing and storytelling, which draws the reader in as a bystander to the action.
In the second half of the story and given Will’s current age and determination, the urgency of the journey and mission he has set for himself and his travelling companion, Sophie, comes through clearly in the narrative. However, given that age also has its limitations, Gail seeks to temper the tension, by treating her readers to a virtual armchair travelogue of the panoramic beauty of the Tuscan countryside. The tourist crowds are almost invisibly stripped away, revealing the authentic sights and sounds of a community still largely living as they have done since time forgotten, yet visibly divided and conflicted by the wartime tragedies of decades ago, too horrendous to forgive, which separates them, friends and family alike. However, Gail never loses sight of the reason for this once in a lifetime trip and weaves the two strands of her storytelling almost seamlessly together, to complete a totally multi-layered story.
Gail freely admits that she approaches her writing in a very methodical and analytical way, complete with character spreadsheets and authenticated speech patterns, yet there is no way you would have guessed that from the easy, authentic, free-flowing way in which the characters react with both one another, their surroundings and the underlying intensity of the storyline.
Will and Sarah are not likely travelling partners, given that they have only really recently got past the nodding stage with each other, living as they do in the same apartment complex. However, neither have close friend or family ties, both are searching for a sense of belonging and Will is very much a force to be reckoned with when he puts his mind to it. At the start, neither comes clean with the other about their past and the secrets they both hide, with information being divulged piece by piece during the course of their journey, almost on a need to know basis, neither fully trusting the other with their respective fears and hopes.
However, as time passes, Will and Sarah become quite engaging characters, with genuine depth. The trip becomes a healing balm for both of them, as they learn valuable lessons about themselves and each other, with the power and essence of unexpected friendship shining through and helping to mend those broken hearts, whilst teaching them both that age is no barrier to respect, kindness, or a genuine bond of love, which transcends beyond this life.
This story is a heart-warming, heart-breaking drama, which is part history, part mystery and part romance.
A genuine book to escape into and a story to be savoured – along with the mouth-watering rustic Italian meal recipes, with which Gail completes the saga!