Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Last Voyage of the Valentina by Santa Montefiore

As I’m currently in love with all things Italian (I'll blame the lovely Carla Coulson for encouraging this addiction!), but tending to read heavily in the memoir department, I decided to take a sidewards step when I saw this book recommended on a blog and instead read a novel set in Italy. 
Although the story didn’t grab me in the first chapter or so, it didn’t take long to get its hooks into me and I really didn’t want to put it down.  

Written in two time periods – the end of WWII and the swinging sixties/seventies the story takes place in England and Italy.   Starting with an assassination it sets the scene immediately that there is more to this story than meets the eye.

Alba, an extremely attractive young woman in her twenties, who lives for the moment, uses men for sexual companionship and odd-jobs but doesn’t let herself get involved emotionally with any of them, and manages to live on her allowance rather than work.   She lives on her father’s houseboat in London (called the Valentina) and grew up in a comfortably well off family in rural England with her father, Thomas, her stepmother  Margo (“the Buffalo”) and step siblings.   

Apart from knowing her mother  Valentina was Italian and that she died shortly after her birth at the end of WWII, Valentina is a mystery to Alba as she is not a topic of conversation and indeed is never referred to by the family.  In a rather spoilt-brat style, she tries to get her father to impart details about Valentina and squarely lays the blame on her step mother for wiping out her mother’s memory.

In an effort to find out more, her novelist neighbour suggests the use of her literary agent, Fitz, as a pretend boyfriend (who is already in love with her from a distance) as he is the sort of ‘suitable’ young man her family would approve of and her father may indulge more information to another man about the mysterious Valentina.

The information is enough to set Alba to discover more about her mother in Italy – specifically the small village of Incantellaria, on the Amalfi Coast.   In the process of discovering her mother’s story in which she sees some uncomfortable similarities between them both, she learns the value of community, the love of family and we see Alba finally grow up.

The story could have happily ended a number of times in the latter quarter of the book, with a satisfactory “happy” ending, but the author drew it out more and personally I was a little unsettled with the actual ending, but it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the story overall.

The descriptions of Italy appear very accurate, and you can feel the heat, the dryness and the light of the Amalfi Coast in summer as you read.  The characters were also brought to life with descriptive writing.   I was surprised to learn that the author, Santa Montefiore isn’t Italian, but Argentinian/English and this was her first published novel that was set in Italy.

Overall, an enjoyable romance with enough action, suspense and tragedy to keep the story rolling along.