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The Villa In Italy by Elizabeth Edmondson - Review

Sunday, November 28, 2021

This is a book that I probably wouldn't have ever picked up in my entire life, but it was the November choice for my book club, so I bought a second hand copy on eBay and started it in early November. And I ended up really enjoying it and want to read other stuff by the same author! I totally judged it by its cover and thought it would be frothy fluff. It isn't, and I really liked it. 

The book is set in the mid 1950s, so the spectre of World War Two is very definitely still felt. Four strangers are told that they are named in the will of a Beatrice Malaspina, and that they must travel to her house, the Villa Dante, in Northern Italy, for further instruction. 

The first person is Delia. She is from a posh family in Yorkshire; her father is a lord. She is an opera singer, a profession that her parents don't approve of. She has been suffering from bronchitis for a while and the damp English air has done nothing to help. She is only too happy to go to Italy, hoping the warmth will help her. She goes with her friend, Jessica. Jessica is also from a posh family, and she's also married to an MP, Richie Meldon. The marriage is unhappy and Jessica is desperate for a divorce, but Richie won't comply. Jessica has been followed around by a tabloid journalist, so she's also desperate to get away from England. The two take off to Paris in Jessica's car, and then on to Italy. They arrive in the middle of a storm and, desperately hoping the house is in fact the right one, go to bed.

The next two to arrive are George and Marjorie. George is a scientist, currently on sabbatical from his work in Cambridge. During the war he worked on stuff that was linked to the atom bomb, and since then he has lived a guilty life, incapable of dealing with the fact that he had a hand in the deaths of so many people, albeit at a removed place. 

Marjorie is a detective writer, but she hasn't written anything for over five years. She is working class and also a lesbian, which I felt was revealed in a really good way further on in the book. She is recovering from an accident and is also running out of money.

None of these three people know who Beatrice Malaspina is, but they all have time to travel to see what is going on. They spend a couple of nice days down on the beach and exploring the house, which has expansive grounds outside and many frescoes painted on the walls inside. There are two members of staff, Benedetta and Pietro. 

Then Lucius arrives. He's the son of a rich US banking family and is himself a banker. He's about to get married to someone it turns out that Delia and Jessica went to school with. He also doesn't know Beatrice and doesn't know why he's there.

The five start to work together to bring the house back to some of its glory and to uncover what is going on with the will. I found the book really compelling and read it fast. I liked Delia, who is really the main character, and her life and friendship with Jessica. But I liked everyone else too - although not some of the people who turn up towards the end. I liked the posh, genteel people feel to it. I'm giving it four out of five. 

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