29/01/2018

One Night in Italy (by Lucy Diamond)

I discovered Lucy Diamond’s novels a few years ago, and have read several now. I’ve enjoyed them all, so last Autumn I added a few more to my wishlist. I was given three of them for Christmas, and have just finished reading ‘One Night in Italy’.

The story is about three very different women. We meet Anna first. She’s a journalist in her twenties, who lives with a rather boorish and sexist man whom she finds increasingly irritating. She grew up with a single mother who would never talk about Anna’s father. Then her grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s Disease and is in a care home, lets slip some information that sets Anna off on a path of exploration, including joining a local Italian class.

Next we meet Sophie, who has been travelling around Europe and is working as a waitress somewhere in Italy. She left home after an angry incident at home, and has not seen her parents for some years, though she sends them occasional postcards, and keeps a travel blog. Then she gets a phone call and learns that her father is in hospital, seriously ill…

Finally there’s Catherine, who is rather older but less confident than either of the others. Catherine is married to a doctor called Mike, although they’ve grown somewhat apart recently. We meet her as she’s about to drive her eighteen-year-old twins to their universities for the first time. She is dreading the ‘empty nest’, but hopes that it might lead to the chance to reconnect with Mike. She’s clearly quite needy, and is devastated when both her offspring rush off with barely a backward glance… and that’s not the worst part of her day.

The novel follows these three women over the next few weeks. They live near each other, as we soon discover, and eventually meet at the Italian evening class which both Anna and Catherine have signed up for, and which Sophie is teaching.

It’s the kind of plot that could have been confusing, as there are so many minor characters and subplots. Indeed, I had trouble remembering who was who in the early parts. But the three main characters are different enough that I felt I got to know them all. I had the most empathy for Catherine, although most of my circumstances are very different from hers.

It wasn’t so easy remembering who other people were, though. Most confusing is that Sophie’s mum is called Trish, and her father is Jim. Anna’s mother, if I remember rightly, is Tracey, and one of her colleagues is Joe. I don’t ‘hear’ words when I’m reading, I see them… and the similarities (particularly with the two mothers, who had similar roles as well) meant I had to back-track a page or two more than once, to find out where I was.

However, that’s a minor problem in what was otherwise an enjoyable and well-written novel. Lucy Diamond’s style is informal, although I would have preferred a bit less bad language, and also fewer unexpected explicit (sometimes sordid) conversations. But she does, thankfully, avoid any details of bedroom scenes as they (inevitably) happen. Her women are more three dimensional than her men, who seem to be divided into the unpleasant, demeaning and bullying ones and the almost-too-nice-to-be-true ones. But that didn’t particularly matter as the story was focused on the women.

There are some surprises, one or two moving sections, and plenty of light-hearted banter and action. It was easy to keep reading each night long past the time when I needed to sleep, and I then finished the last hundred or so pages at one sitting. It’s a story of transformation, and discovery; it’s also an encouragement to women to get out of verbally abusive relationships. But most of all it’s a thoughtful novel with realistic main characters and satisfactory outcomes even if some of the threads are left open.

Definitely recommended to those who enjoy women’s fiction of this kind.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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